Winthrop’s Sam Allen slides safely into second base before Madison’s Whitney Bess can apply the tag in a Class C South semifinal Saturday in Madison. (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)
MADISON — Every team talks about starting quickly. Not every team can do it.
The unbeaten Madison softball team has turned the quick start into an art form in these playoffs, doing it again against No. 4 Winthrop on Saturday afternoon, robbing the game of any doubt right from the first few batters en route to an easy 12-2 win in the Class C South semifinals at Campbell Field. With the victory, the Bulldogs (18-0) advance to their sixth straight regional final on Tuesday, where they will face Sacopee Valley at St. Joseph’s College at 7 p.m.
“Honestly, we hadn’t come out fast all season, so it’s kind of new and different,” said Madison senior third baseman Whitney Bess, who enjoyed a 2-for-3 day with a pair of RBIs and three runs scored. “I don’t think we’ve ever done it before in my four years in playoffs. It’s about motivation. Last year we lost in the states, and there are seven of us who are seniors who really want to get back there.”
Winthrop entered Saturday’s game with heavy hearts.
Prior to the contest, both teams gathered around home plate for a moment of silence for Rambers coach Chuck Gurney’s wife, who passed away unexpectedly on Friday.
“I actually debated coming today,” Gurney said. “Not for my own self, but for (the players). I worried it would be too emotional for them and they wouldn’t be focused on the task. They wanted me here with them, and there’s no place I’d rather be.”
Madison scored in five of their six innings at the plate, putting crooked numbers on the scoreboard in four of them. Just as they had done to Maranacook in the quarterfinals earlier in the week, smacking five straight hits en route to a 10-run first inning, the first five Bulldogs reached against Winthrop ace Layne Audet in a four-run first.
By the time the game was an inning and a half old, Winthrop (13-5) found itself in a 7-0 hole.
“I said it before the season, to be the man you’ve got to beat the man. They’re still the man,” Gurney said. “They haven’t been beaten yet.”
Madison added two more runs in both the third and fourth innings and tacked on an insurance score for good measure in the sixth. Every batter in the Bulldog lineup — including two substitutes added in the late innings — reached base, and seven spots in the order scored at least one run.
“I think it’s mental preparation, and it’s the leadership we have with the seven seniors we have. They’ve been here before and they know what it takes,” Madison head coach Chris LeBlanc said of his team’s ability to jump out to early leads in the playoffs. “They know the expectation, and they get themselves prepared.”
Senior shortstop Annie Worthen was 2-for-4 with two RBIs as part of a 10-hit attack, and sophomore sister Katie Worthen was 2 for 4 with a pair of doubles and three runs scored.
It was tremendous run support for sophomore Lauria LeBlanc, who allowed just one earned run on three hits with 12 strikeouts. In two starts against the Ramblers this season, LeBlanc fanned a total of 22 in 14 innings of work.
REVERSAL OF FORM: The game stood in marked contrast to the lone regular season meeting between the two teams, when LeBlanc out-dueled Audet in a 1-0 win.
Audet never seemed to find the rhythm she’d had in Winthrop’s quarterfinal win over Monmouth, in which she struck out 14 batters, on Thursday.
“Layne’s pitched her butt off for us all year, and I’m not going to fault Layne on one bad game,” Gurney said. “She’s been a workhorse for us. Every now and then, things just don’t go the way you want them to.
UNDER PRESSURE: Madison’s offense continues to put pressure on opponents.
Winthrop made three of its six errors in the first three innings, each helping the Bulldogs extend ongoing threats.
Madison made the most of those opportunities, scoring five runs on plays immediately following Rambler errors.
“We’re playing with more tempo,” senior catcher Ashley Emery said. “If we lose, that’s it for us. If I’m at bat, I’m focusing on what I’m doing there. If I’m on the bases, I’m focusing on that part of it. That helps with (managing) the emotion part of it.”
Five of Madison’s first seven runs were unearned.
“They hit the ball. That was the difference in the game,” Gurney said. “They hit the ball and forced us to make plays.”
The Bulldogs’ getting contributions throughout the lineup aided their ability to cash in on the chances they were handed.
“It’s what we talk about, we want everybody to have the ability to hit,” Chris LeBlanc said. “You’ve got to put pressure on. I think that’s a good thing.”
Winthrop’s Bryanna Baxter can’t hold onto the the ball as Madison’s Lauria LeBlanc crosses the bag in the Class C South semifinals Saturday in Madison. (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)Madison’s Katie Worthen slides safely under the tag from Winthrop’s Moriah Hajduk in the Class C South semifinals Saturday in Madison. (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)Madison celebrates before beginning the fourth inning against Winthrop in the Class C South semifinals Saturday in Madison. (Michael G. Seamans/Kennebec Journal)