JAY — Thick fog, that perpetual mist and temperatures 20 degrees cooler than what softball players expect the fourth week of May weren’t optimum conditions for wielding an aluminum bat Monday.
Make contact too close to the handle and the resulting sting is a gift that keeps on giving.
But when you connect smack-dab in the middle of the label, the way Beth Moore did while leading off the bottom of the sixth inning, not much feels better.
Moore’s blast over the left field fence — her first career home run — provided the exclamation point in Jay’s 4-0 MVC shutout of Dirigo.
“This year I’ve started hitting better,” said Moore, salutatorian of her senior class. “It felt good coming off the bat.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Moore clubbed two resounding, inning-ending fly balls, one to right field and another to left.
Jay coach Robin Roberts and assistant Clint Brooks had Moore make a subtle adjustment to her batting stance this season.
“She’s a big tall girl with quite a long arm extension. It seemed like watching her, she wasn’t taking advantage of that arm extension,“ Brooks said. “So we set her back in the (batter’s) box about six inches away from the plate. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it, but things started clicking for her.”
“We had some pretty good hits, and that last one by Beth was really big,“ Roberts added. “Three runs wasn‘t enough. Four runs isn’t a lot, really, because Dixfield is a good team. She hit the other ones hard. She’s a senior. This year, I don’t know if she blossomed or whatever, but there’s a big difference.”
Ashley Dorey, Alexi Deering and Ashlee Quirrion each pounded out two of the Tigers’ eight hits. Jay (10-1) had at least one hit and a runner in scoring position in every inning.
That was more than enough for Paula Despres and her spotless defense.
Despres spun a four-hit shutout. Deering, Moore, Dorey and Brittany DiPompo all plucked diving or far-ranging defensive gems.
“We play good defense,” Roberts said. “When she gets her change-up going, it’s a big help. And that’s the big thing: They make plays for her.”
Dirigo (6-6) left multiple runners on base in the third, sixth and seventh innings.
Despres struck out Gretchen Bradbury and Alyssa Wade to counter Kyme Dolloff’s leadoff double in third.
Brooke Kersey and Wade each singled in the sixth. The Cougars cost themselves a run when a pinch runner didn’t tag up at third and dash homeon a shallow fly ball.
Mariah Larsen singled and Bradbury reached on catcher’s interference in the seventh.
DiPompo tracked down a groundball to shortstop and tagged Larsen between second and third for the final out.
“We tried to be aggressive and … It’s cold. It’s hard. (Despres) throws and keeps you off balance,” Dirigo coach Clint Dolloff said. “I’m glad to see there weren’t too many errors that decided it.”
Jay did capitalize on a throwing miscue to score one of its two runs in the first.
Dorey drove home DiPompo with an RBI single. Alexis Blodgett, who reached when all Jay runners wound up safe on a fielder’s choice, eventually scored on an errant throw.
Quirrion’s leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt by Casidee Couture set the table for Alannah White’s RBI single to make it 3-0 in the second.
“We’ve played together for years and years and years, and this year it’s all clicked together offensively and defensively,” Moore said. “We’re friends on and off the field, and it shows in the way we play.”
Despres struck out five and walked only one. Wade whiffed four and benefited from two double plays for Dirigo, the only team to beat reigning state champion Telstar this season.
Jay will face Telstar on May 31 in a rematch that probably will settle the MVC North title.
“The first time we played, I don’t think they can hit any better than that, put it that way,” Roberts said. “We’ve just got to play better ball and be a little smarter.”