MANSFIELD, Mass. – Heading into the seventh of Monday afternoon’s Kelley-Rex match-up, Mansfield pitcher Maddie Letendre had 10 strikeouts but had only one inning in which North Attleboro failed to put at least one runner on base.
Letendre struck out the lead-off hitter and got a fly ball to the left fielder and it looked as though she would cruise through the frame and seal the win. But, Megan Barlow lined a two-out triple to left and then scored on an error that allowed Sam Courtemanche to reach. Gina Miceli slapped a single over the shortstop to put the tying run on base.
The Rocketeers’ lead-off hitter Mycala Moody was up next, but her bunt down the third base line was fielded cleanly by Kara Bendanillo to close out a 5-3 victory for the Hornets, which moves them into a tie for third in the division.
“Overall, very, very happy with the outcome,” said Mansfield coach Lori Letendre after the game. “The thing I’ve been telling the girls all season is we need to play as a team. We’ve got a lot of new faces this year and we’re finally starting to play together as a team.”
Maddie Letendre finished with 11 strikeouts, but also allowed nine hits and a walk against a pesky North Attleboro lineup that saw seven different players record base hits. In the end, Letendre only allowed two earned runs and worked out of a number of jams to get the Hornets’ fourth straight win.
“She had the confidence out there,” said Lori Letendre. “She and Bri have been working together for four years now and I think they did a great job keeping batters on their heels a little bit and not knowing what’s coming next.”
North Attleboro coach Bill Wallace saw his team leave 13 runners on base, including nine in scoring position, and that proved to be decisive.
“That’s a killer; that’s almost two an inning,” he explained. “We had some good at bats and she mixes up her speeds enough that every at bat is a challenge. She would come up with the big strikeout and pop-up when she needed to.”
After North left two on base in the top of the first, Mansfield took the lead in its trip to the plate. Freshman Madyson Bendanillo singled to right to start the inning and after a strikeout, her twin sister Kara walked. North pitcher Amelia Murphy got a comebacker for the second out, but Rachel Carafa blasted a two-out double into left to plate both Bendanillos.
The Rocketeers answered back in the second. Kristina Murphy singled to lead-off and, after Letendre struck out the next two batters, Miceli, who had a pair of singles and reached base all four plate appearances, singled to left. Moody walked to load the bases and Jordan Sharpe came through with a single that scored two and tied the game.
It was not tied long. Brianna Homer started the third with a single to center and Jocelyn Reardon reached on a fielder’s choice. Liz Mackin dropped down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move both into scoring position for Madyson Bendaillo, who lined a triple into left field to clear the bases.
“She’s all in,” said Letendre of Bendaillo, who went 3-4, reached base all four times, scored two runs and drove in a pair. “She’s a very smart player, but sometimes she tries to work outside herself and put it all on her shoulders…she’s understanding that she doesn’t need to get the big hit all the time, it will happen.”
Bendanillo came in with the fifth Hornets run on a ground out by classmate Megan Letendre. Mansfield nearly added a sixth in the third inning, but Carafa was thrown out at the plate by centerfielder Kaylea Sherman trying to score from second on a single by Homer.
Murphy allowed at least one base runner every inning, but seemed to settle into her start after the second inning. She finished with five strikeouts and allowed 11 hits, but only two hits over her final three innings of work.
“She settled down and the defense settled down too,” said Wallace of Murphy. “That team can hit. I know they lost a lot the last couple years, but they had some kids come up that can hit.”
North had a golden opportunity to cut into the lead in the fourth inning. Courtemanche doubled and Miceli and Moody each reached on fielder’s choices to load the bases with just one out and bring the coach out to speak with Letendre.
The senior pitcher caught Sharpe looking after a prolonged at-bat and then got Liz Morehouse to pop up to third to end the inning and escape the jam. In the sixth, North had two on with one out, but again Letendre got a big strikeout and then a grounder to second to end the threat.
After a rough week in which North lost to league leaders Taunton and King Philip, the Rocketeers are in the midst of another challenging stretch against division rivals. Wallace is pleased with the confidence that his team has shown against tough opponents.
“Now we’ve got Franklin, Mansfield, and Attleboro…nothing is going to be easy in this league,” he said. “They’re picking each other up, which I like.”
North Attleboro (3-3, 2-3) will try to bounce back against Franklin on Wednesday. Mansfield (4-2, 2-2) will try to keep the momentum going when Attleboro visits Wednesday afternoon.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.