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WEST WARWICK â€” In a division where so many teams are so equally talented, small mistakes could be the difference between winning the Division II-South title or finishing fourth and earning a road date in the first round of the playoffs.
Two of those talented teams, Exeter-West Greenwich and West Warwick, met at Amby Smith Field Tuesday and a couple of mistakes by the extremely young â€“ albeit talented â€“ Knights proved to be the difference.
After EWG failed to plate senior Rebecca DeFeo from third base with no outs in the eighth inning, a sacrifice bunt by Kat Palmer and a wild pitch by freshman hurler Jenna Bridges allowed pinch runner Mari-Kate Sprague to score the game-winning run in the Wizardsâ€™ 2-1 eight-inning victory.
â€śThis is a real big win especially since we didnâ€™t hit all game,â€ť West Warwick coach Brian Palazzo said. â€śTo pull out a win like this, I told them after the game that this kind of reminds me of last year. This is a good character-building win that shows us our defense is playing well right now.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™re a young team that has four freshmen in the lineup,â€ť Exeter first-year coach Artie Tefft said. â€śWe fought and tied it up and just caught a bad break in the top of the eighth inning when we didnâ€™t get a run home with the bases loaded and no outs. That shot us in the foot at the end.â€ť
Exeter-West Greenwich (1-2 Division II-South) has now lost its last two games by one run and both contests were to last yearâ€™s Division II finalists. Bridges, who is throwing in place of junior Andrea Artesani, was brilliant for seven innings. The freshman allowed three hits and struck out four Wizards.
West Warwick (2-0 Division II-South) relied on both of its pitchers to stay perfect. Sophomore Briana Gough, who earned a save in last weekâ€™s win over South Kingstown, allowed three hits and struck out nine batters. Senior Katelyn Henault earned the win by pitching through an adventurous eighth inning.
DeFeo, per international tiebreaker rules, started the inning on second base after striking out to end the seventh. She moved to third on a bunt single by freshman Hannah Tefft and the bases were loaded when Henault walked freshman Madison Dâ€™Arezzo.
â€śWhen they loaded the bases I just wanted to get out of there allowing one run,â€ť Palazzo said.
â€śWe didnâ€™t take our opportunity like we had it in the eighth,â€ť Tefft said.
Henault caught a pop up off the bat of Danielle David and then Artesani looped a ball just over the second-base bag. Sophomore centerfielder Dana Barclay made the catch and immediately threw the ball home to Camille Oâ€™Brien, who blocked the plate and tagged out DeFeo to end the threat.
â€śI knew it was a pretty important play,â€ť Barclay said. â€śCamille made a great tag at the plate and I knew we needed to get that girl so I gave it all I had.â€ť
Sprague started the bottom of the eighth on second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by senior Kat Palmer, who reached first on an error.
The game ended three pitches later when an 0-2 offering to Barclay squeaked past the catcher, which allowed Sprague to scamper home for the one-run victory. It was the second time in as many seasons the Wizards defeated the Scarlet Knights by a run at Amby Smith.
It became evident after just a few innings that one run might be enough to earn the victory. Gough didnâ€™t allow a hit until Jen Brown served up a single to right field in the fifth inning, while Bridges allowed just one hit through the first three innings.
West Warwick opened the scoring in the fourth inning when Gough led off with a home run down the left-field line. The sophomore turned on a 1-0 pitch and drove it past Artesani.
â€śIt came in and I just hit it,â€ť Gough said.
Gough pitched around the Brown single in the fifth, but the Knights tied the game up in the sixth. Tefft led off with a single, stole second and came around to score on Artesaniâ€™s single to right field. The senior advanced to second on a throwing error, but she was stranded there when Bridges grounded out to second.
Alexis Jendzejec led off the seventh inning with a single and moved to second on a passed ball, but Gough struck out Ashley Orwitz and DeFeo to set the stage for a fascinating final inning.