LOWELL — The St. Mary’s softball team gave Catholic Central League rival Austin Prep its best effort in Saturday’s Division 3 North final. But it wasn’t enough as the No. 3 Spartans fell just short in a 2-1 eight-inning loss to the top-seeded Cougars at James S. Martin Field.
The Spartans end their season at 19-5.
“I’m extremely proud,” St. Mary’s coach Paige Licata said. “(Austin Prep) is a tough team and it was a tough game. We’ve been here before and again it came down to who was going to luck out and get that break. I think when you’re playing deep in games like this after a long day like (Saturday), two days in a row, it comes down to who’s going to get that break.”
Despite the loss, Lily Newhall dazzled in the circle. Newhall threw all eight innings and allowed two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts.
“Lily pitching the way she did, to keep a team like that to two runs is pretty impressive,” Licata said. “I’m proud all around of this group. It was a great fight. It’s fun to play in a game where it’s that competitive. It shows what a great program both sides have. Obviously we just wish we were on the other side of it.”
The Cougars got off to a fast start in this one. Lauren Sablone laced a leadoff single and stole second. Alexandra Santostefano came up next and plated Sablone with another single to give Austin Prep a 1-0 lead.
From there it was all defense. Newhall settled down in the circle, allowing just three hits before the eighth inning. The St. Mary’s bats were silent for four innings against Cougars pitcher Serena McGinness.
St. Mary’s got on the board via small ball in the fifth inning. Alyssa Grossi (2-for-3, run) reached on a single and Katie O’Neill moved her to second on a sacrifice bunt. The next batter, Jordan Sullivan, hit a fly ball to left field, but Grossi tagged up to get to third base. Christina Nowicki (2-for-3, walk, RBI) came through with the hit the Spartans needed, plating Grossi on a RBI single to tie the game at 1-1.
Things looked liked like they were falling perfectly into place for St. Mary’s in the seventh inning. Grossi started with another single and O’Neill moved her to second base with her second sacrifice bunt. It looked like Nowicki would have another chance to be the hero for St. Mary’s but Austin Prep knew better. The Cougars intentionally walked the Spartans’ leadoff hitter and it paid off when they got out of the inning with a fly ball.
“To me in any scenario anything can happen,” Licata said. “To put any player in that situation is tough to do. I think anybody for us one through nine can get the winning hit. I was excited for that opportunity but they played their strategy well. Christina has been on a hot streak lately so taking her out of that chance is a smart move. I think it put more pressure on us, but we should’ve got more runs a lot sooner. When we’re offensive, we win. When we’re not, it’s tougher to beat teams.”
The Cougars’ winning run was an exact copy of their first. Sablone reached on a single and stole second base before Santostefano laced a single to right center field to give Austin Prep the 2-1 win in the eighth inning.
The future is still bright for St. Mary’s but three seniors, Jordan and Taylor Sullivan and Mia DiBiasio will certainly be missed.
“They came as juniors so they’re been here a couple years,” Licata said. “They’ve been in this boat. Every player we’ve had the last few years has been in this situation. Whether you just came or have been here for awhile. I think they left a huge mark on the program. We’re going to miss them greatly especially Jordan and Taylor’s hitting. It’s been a huge help and it’s a hole in our lineup we’ll have to fill. I definitely wish all three the best. I wish it worked out differently but we’re super proud.”