TOPSHAM — Those extra three feet between home plate and the center of the softball pitching circle this spring have generated the full spectrum of feelings from coaches and hurlers affected by it.
Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and its sophomore right-hander, Heather Verrier, now appreciate the rule change in a new light.
Verrier was taken to a hospital for evaluation Thursday after she was struck by a Taylor Pare line drive in the forehead. That overshadowed the Vikings’ valiant near-comeback in a 7-5 Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference loss to the Eagles.
“It was a direct shot,” said Oxford Hills coach Cindy Goddard. “I’m sure she’ll have a concussion. The only good thing is that getting hit in the core like that is better than getting hit in the temple.”
Pare’s hit — ultimately an RBI single for the third Mt. Ararat run of the inning — covered the 43-feet distance in a fraction of a second. Verrier attempted to shield her face and make a play but couldn’t react in time.
She stumbled toward first base after the impact but never fell to the ground, eventually walking off the field with minor assistance from her father and coaches.
A visibly concerned Pare met with Goddard after the post-game handshake.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do that,” the left fielder said.
“Hey, if you could aim like that, you wouldn’t be playing in this league,” Goddard replied with a smile.
Oxford Hills (9-6) trailed 5-2 when Verrier departed and 7-3 going into the seventh before a rally that put the potential tying run in scoring position.
Allyson Snow was Meghan Carr’s fifth strikeout victim of the day but reached on a passed ball to put the Vikings in business.
With two out, Dayna Schultz singled down the left-field line for her third hit of the afternoon. Moriah Martin’s grounder to third was bobbled to load the bases.
Brooke Ladd kept it alive with an infield single to shortstop, coaxing an errant throw that allowed Schultz to score behind pinch runner Lindsay Fox.
Verrier’s clean-up spot in the order was next. Frankie Severance swung at the first pitch and lofted a tricky pop-up that tailed away from the left side of the infield. Miranda Riendeau-Card flagged it down for the final out.
“We battled,” Goddard said. “We’ve had games like this where we’ve come alive and hit like this for an inning or two at a time.”
Battling for its postseason life, Mt. Ararat (7-8) took advantage of five Oxford Hills errors.
The Eagles entered the game ranked No. 9 in Eastern Class A, with the Vikings at No. 7. Eight teams will make the playoffs.
“We’ve been hot and cold,” said Mt. Ararat coach Rick Bartlett. “We hit the ball terribly (Wednesday) against Lewiston. It was totally different today.”
Carr and Morgan Kinney each drove in a third-inning run to counter Schultz’s two-run homer in the top of the frame.
Those same table-setters reached courtesy of Oxford Hills miscues to fuel the fifth.
Riendeau-Card ripped a ground-rule double for one run. Tess Hitchcock followed with an RBI groundout prior to Verrier’s scary scene.
The injury happened at the worst possible time for the Vikings, whose No. 2 pitcher is absent for a holiday-weekend family vacation.
Ashley West filled in admirably, surrendering two runs — one unearned — in the sixth. She received a boost when Brittina Maheux, Snow and Jaidyn Rice collaborated on a rare 6-3-5 double play.
“They’re a good hitting team. Heather has pitched every game for us,” Goddard said, adding that she doesn’t expect to have Verrier back in time for the regular-season finale Tuesday against Lawrence.
Ladd doubled and scored on a two-out single by Rice to make it 5-3 in the sixth. West followed with a sharp single to center, but Shauna Williams’ strong throw to catcher Liz Andreasen trapped Rice in a rundown that ended the threat.