AUBURN – Monday’s working lunch coaxed the full spectrum of emotions from Auburn Suburban Little League’s 9-and-10-year-old softball all-star team.
Twice, the first time during infield warmups prior to the second inning, an Auburn player hollered over the fence to her mother, “Can I go to a pool party at Kristi’s house after the game?”
“We’ll talk about it later,” was Mom’s sheepish response.
Nobody was much in the mood for talking (or swimming) roughly an hour later, when the Little League state tournament felt like the end-all, be-all for at least a brief, sullen spell.
Cape Elizabeth pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh to prevail, 4-3, in a round-robin showdown of unbeaten teams at Sweetser Field.
Brooke Riddle’s RBI single to center off reliever Hannah Smith – who entered when Kory Norcross got the mandatory hook after working the six-inning limit – ended the tightest game to date in the tourney.
It was only the third time in seven games that the winning team didn’t score double digits.
Auburn Suburban rolled its Saturday and Sunday victims by a combined tally of 23-9, a body of work coach Craig Norcross was quick to reinforce in the postgame pep talk behind his pick-up truck.
“That’s what I was just telling them about pool play: We don’t want to give up a lot, and we want to score a lot,” Norcross said. “We’ve been pretty good at doing that.”
District 5 champion Auburn meets Wells-Ogunquit – another team that won its first two games – at 4:30 p.m. today, then entertains Hermon at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Two more wins would put Auburn in terrific shape to reach the championship game at 3 p.m. Thursday. Total runs are one of the chief tiebreakers in the event of a three-way deadlock.
Livia Chandler drew a leadoff walk to christen the seventh. Pinch runner Michaella Pinette scampered to second on a wild pitch and scored on Riddle’s sharp single. It was only Cape’s fourth hit of the contest after Kory Norcross, the coach’s daughter, hurled six stellar innings.
The left-hander struck out 11 and walked two. Her counterpart, Mollie Thibodeau, fanned 10, yielded four hits and issed only one free pass. Anna Goldstein pitched a scoreless seventh to earn the victory.
Emma O’Rourke singled in the second inning and doubled in the fourth for Cape. Emily Schario cranked a leadoff double to tie it, 2-2, in Auburn’s half of the fourth. Katie Williams beat out an infield single and later scored another tying run in the fifth.
“For a 10-year-old girl, (Thibodeau) was bringing it really well, and all these girls were hitting her. They weren’t that intimidated. I was impressed,” Norcross said.
Another pitching rule played a role in the finish.
Starting pitchers who go the distance are not allowed to work consecutive games. Auburn’s Tianna Harriman was unavailable Monday, and to bring in third pitcher Brittany Williams would have created defensive substitution issues.
“It’s an exercise in managing five games. We have to alternate pitchers,” said Cape coach Scott Perkins. “We’ve got some depth in pitching.”
With only four 10-year-olds on its 13-player roster, Auburn is managing its own tournament splendidly for the home fans.
“We have three or four girls who came up from the Minors, who have never played at this level,” Norcross said. “So, for them to even be doing what they’re doing, they’re doing a great job.”