BANGOR, Maine – The Castleton softball team scored four first-inning runs en route to a 4-3 victory over top-seeded Husson in a North Atlantic Conference Championship Tournament elimination game on Saturday afternoon, advancing to the NAC Championship game against Thomas College.
The Spartans (20-9-1) staved off elimination for the second game in a row, holding off a furious comeback by the Eagles (28-13) in driving rain on the turf of the Alfond Diamond. Castleton takes on Thomas in the NAC Championship game at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Taylor Paquette tossed three brilliant innings of relief to earn the save, shutting down Husson to the tune of just four hits and a walk without allowing a run. Kayla Wood earned the win with four innings pitched, allowing three runs, two earned, with three strikeouts. She didn't allow a hit, but walked six batters in the victory. Five different Spartans recorded hits in the win, and Jordan Gouger drove in a pair of runs to lead the way.
Alannah Healy shouldered the loss, allowing all four runs, three of which were earned, in just 0.1 innings of work. Jen Jones tossed the remaining 5.2 innings for the Eagles, allowing just two hits and four walks with seven strikeouts. Olivia Smith had the only RBI for Husson, while three others drew two walks apiece.
Husson jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first inning, as Bri Brochu and Chloe Gorey drew back-to-back walks to open the contest. A sacrifice bunt by Smith advanced runners to second and third, before a wild pitch scored Brochu. Wood buckled down, getting a key strikeout and pop out to limit the damage.
Castleton answered in a big way in its first opportunity, as Timi Carone walked to open the inning. She was erased on a fielder's choice that allowed Baker to reach base, before Kayley Fountain sent a base hit into left field. A double down the left field line by Tori Swaine scored a run, before a double by Gouger drove in both Fountain and Swaine to make it 3-1 Spartans and drive Healy from the contest. A walk and an error loaded the bases for the Spartans, before a walk by Sami Carlo pushed in a run to make it 4-1.
Wood held Husson scoreless in the second inning, but the Eagles got a run back in the third frame to cut the deficit to 4-2. Two walks and two stolen bases led to a run for Husson as groundout by Smith scored Brochu.
Another run by Husson in the fourth inning cut the gap to just one run, as Casey Lopes flew out to right and a throwing error on the play allowed Nicole Andrade to score. Wood set down the next two batters, ending the inning with a strikeout looking to Brochu.
After the Spartans went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the fourth, Castleton made a move to the bullpen, bringing in Paquette to neutralize the Eagles' attack. Paquette worked her way around a pair of baserunners, escaping the jam by inducing a pop out and ground out.
Husson threatened once more in the sixth inning, but again Paquette worked her way out of danger. Back-to-back base hits to open the inning put two runners on, before a one-out infield single loaded the bases. Paquette got a ground ball to Swaine at third base, who cut down the runner at the plate to preserve the lead. A sharp lineout to right field ended the inning, giving Castleton one more chance to extend its lead.
Brooke Naylor broke up a string of 10 straight batters set down by Jones with a pinch-hit single, but Jones worked her way out of the inning with the Spartans' lead at just one run.
Paquette registered Castleton's first 1-2-3 inning of the game in the seventh, retiring the side in a stress-free manner for the victory.
Castleton outhit Husson 5-4 in the game, but committed a pair of errors to Husson's one miscue.