WALES — The first swing of the game was a pretty significant salvo for Gardiner on Monday afternoon.
But Becca Belaire’s last swing of the afternoon proved to be the ultimate response for the Oak Hill softball team. The junior shortstop doubled down the line to plate Kortni Michaud for the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning. It completed a Raider comeback in a thrilling 5-4 victory over the Tigers.
“I thought I was going to pop it up like I always did,” said Belaire of her two-out game-ending hit to the opposite field.
Gardiner had taken a 2-0 lead in the first inning, sparked by an Ashley Abbott triple on the first pitch of the game. Oak Hill rallied to take the lead in the fifth, but an Abbott single and three-base error led to the tying run in the seventh.
“To battle back like we did and chip away slowly and steady, I don’t think there was ever doubt about it,” said Oak Hill coach Julie Boucher, whose team was ranked fifth in Western B. “They knew they were going to comeback because they know they’re going to comeback every single time.”
Katie Wood led the Raiders (11-2) with three hits and an RBI. Sarah Albert drove in a pair. Lauren Hall scattered eight hits and struck out 11. She allowed just three hits over the last six innings and finished the game despite being drilled in the shin by a line drive up the middle. The Raiders also got some superb play in center field from Marrissa Caskin. She made a number of fine plays while Gardiner’s Molly Snell was equally exceptional in center. Her diving catch in the third squelched a Raider rally.
“We knew we had a little time left,” said Boucher of the early deficit. “Once we settled down with the pitching and weren’t reaching for it, we sat on it a little and started to get the rhythm of line drives and getting it to the middle of the field.”
Abbott had three hits for Gardiner and nixed the Raiders hopes of a win in the seventh. She singled to right and scored on a three-base error to tie it, 4-4.
“That was a tough one,” said Boucher. “She went for it to try to catch it and it didn’t go her way.”
Oak Hill left two runners on in the bottom of the seventh and didn’t get another chance until the 10th. Hall and Taylor Fillion, the heart of the batting order, had already been put down. Michaud came to the plate with two outs.
“I was worried because all my other hits in the game had been horrible,” said Michaud, who struck out in the bottom of the seventh with the winning run at second. “I was just trying to get the bat on the ball.”
She beat out an infield hit. That brought up Belaire, who had also been 0-for-4. She drilled it down the right field line and found a gap that allowed Michaud a shot of reaching home.
“I wasn’t really watching where it was, I was just running,” said Michaud. “I knew I was going to third for sure. Then I heard them yelling and I just started sprinting.”
Gardiner got a nice relay and throw to the plate, but Michaud beat the throw and tag by a few steps.
“It seems like on a lot of our clutch hits, the bottom of the order has come through the best, and they came through today,” said Boucher.
Gardiner (7-6) took the 2-0 lead in the first when Jenna Moore singled in a pair with two outs. The lead went to 3-0 in the third when Molly Snell singled in a run with two outs.
“It didn’t really effect us,” said Belaire. “It was early in the game. We knew we could come back.”
The Raiders did just that with two in the third. Wood plated one with a fielder’s choice and an error on an Albert pop scored Alexis Priest. In the fifth, Albert singled in two to give the Raiders the lead. The Raiders stranded six runners over the final three innings and gave the Tigers a chance to tie in the seventh with the error.
“It feel good,” said Belaire. “I wish we didn’t have to go into extra innings. That’s more stressful and nerve-wracking, but we won and had to play as a team.”