Photo Gallery | Mount Anthony Union girls softball advances to finals
BENNINGTON — With all of the offense and blowouts the Mount Anthony softball team had this season, it was a change to see how they would handle a close one.
Pitcher Taylor Dicranian and the Patriots walked on the edge all afternoon in the Division I semifinal, coming through time and time again to stop Middlebury rallies and moved on with a 2-1 victory, reaching the final for the third straight season.
"It was a lights out performance from Taylor," said MAU coach Katie Contrada. "It's on her to believe she can do it, and as a sophomore to do that against a tough team, what a game for her, she was fantastic."
Dicranian allowed a single run on 11 scattered hits, while stranding 10 Middlebury runners.
"Defensively, every player made a crucial play today, they had a moment to get it done and they did," Contrada said. "As a pitcher, even if they put it in play, she [knows she has] the defense behind her. Jamie [Boyle] was good behind the plate and our outfield had a couple of plays to stop runs from scoring."
Down 2-0, Middlebury finally got to Dicranian for a run in the top of the seventh. Ally Larocque singled and then Lilia Smith singled off Kori Bow's glove to put two runners on with no outs. MaKayla Foster buried a bunt in the dirt to sacrifice the runners over to second and third and then Hannah Lawrence singled to drive in a run.
Lawrence advanced later in the inning to put the go-ahead run in scoring position with two of the Tigers top hitters coming up, but Dicranian bore down and got cleanup hitter Sondra Laroche — who had two hits already — to pop out to Cat Worthington at second, then induced a game-ending groundout from Payton Buxton to end it.
"It was an intense moment, that's what it's about [at this time of the season]," Contrada said. "Middlebury came out and played us tough and we knew it would come down to the end. Every out matters. Our players are good, I have faith in the kids to do their job and today it came out their way."
"I think I stopped breathing for a little bit," said left fielder Kaidin Gauthier.
Middlebury coach Polly Rheaume said they just needed one more hit to change the outcome.
"We needed to get the bat on the ball and line drive it, but then the pop up and we just couldn't get it done," Rheaume said. "We couldn't get it when we needed it most. They played well and I couldn't be more proud of them."
Middlebury had chances throughout. In the second inning, Buxton and Darcy Staats reached with one out, but Dicranian pitched out of trouble with a strikeout and a fly to right.
In the top of the third, the Tigers threatened again. Larocque started the inning reaching on a hit-by-pitch, then Foster blooped a single to right with one out. Laroche singled to center but senior Lauren Woodcock charged the ball and fired a strike to catcher Jamie Boyle to stop a run from scoring. The next hitter rifled a shot right back to the circle, but Dicranian got her left-handed glove on it and caught it for the third out.
Then in the bottom of the third, Mount Anthony broke the scoreless tie. Kaity O'Brien walked with one out, then advanced to second on an attempted pickoff by the catcher. Then Gauthier struck the major blow with two strikes, blasting a shot to left, scoring O'Brien and ending up at third base with a triple.
"Our coaches talk about taking one pitch at a time and breathing in between," Gauthier said. "I let the two [strikes] go and focused on the next one. I wasn't looking for a specific pitch, just trying to get a base hit."
Worthington came up next and grounded to third, and as the third baseman picked up the ball, Gauthier took off for home and scored, while Worthington ended up safe at first with an infield hit and an RBI.
"I'm so proud of Kaidin, she's positive, mentally in it and a great hitter, that's why she's in the two spot," Contrada said. "Games like this come down to one or two hits. Then she was smart on the bases, scoring when the third baseman fielded the ball and it turned out to be the game-winning run."
Dicranian continued to walk the tightrope. She got the first two outs of the fourth, but hits from Abigail LaRock and Larocque and another hit-by-pitch loaded the bases. But the next hitter grounded to second, where Worthington tagged the runner passing in front of her for the third out.
A heads-up play in the top of the fifth killed yet another Middlebury rally. With one out, Laroche doubled and was at second when Buxton fouled out to O'Brien at first base. She caught the ball and quickly realized Laroche was tagging up and heading to third, so she fired the ball to third baseman Ashley Billert, waiting with a tag to easily double up the senior.
Both teams went in order in the sixth, setting up the decisive top of the seventh.
"It was tough having the rain delay [in the bottom of the first, which lasted about an hour]," Contrada said. "We were really ready to come out hot and then we sat around for an hour and had to get cranked up again. They dealt with that really well, like we'll do it no matter when we play."
Mount Anthony improves to 18-1, while Middlebury's season finishes at 16-3. The Patriots will face either Essex or Colchester, a game that was tied at 5-5 in the seventh inning before storms put a halt to the proceeding. That semifinal will continue today at 4:30 p.m. for the right to face MAU.