COVENTRY — Rachel Ball had two hits in the first three innings of Coventry’s season opener against Toll Gate Monday, but those hits were scrubbed away when the game was abandoned in the top of the fourth inning because of heavy rain and wind.
The two teams reconvened Tuesday and Ball made sure – for the second straight day – she would start the Division I campaign on the right foot.
Ball, a lithe centerfielder, had a single in the third inning, an RBI single in the fourth inning and a single in the fifth inning as part of a three-run uprising. In all, the junior went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored to help the Oakers defeat the rebuilding Titans 6-2.
‘The pitcher was really throwing inside a lot today so I just tried to step out more, but I’ve done a lot more off-season stuff with my other teams,” Ball said. “If I get on base it’s good because then we have the real meat of our lineup coming up.’
“We’ve already played seven scrimmages and she’s been hitting the ball – they all have actually,” Coventry coach Chris Daigneault said. “We’ve been scoring over 10 runs in the scrimmages, so we’re going to hit. We scored six and I don’t think we really hit the ball well today. I still think the hitting is going to come.”
When the teams met Monday the weather felt more like late May, but Tuesday felt more like an early-season softball game in New England. The wind was blowing in from centerfield and every player on both teams, except for Coventry pitcher Kerrie DeLiberis, was wearing an undershirt.
Daigneault said he was happy with the way his senior hurler battled the conditions to get the victory. DeLiberis gave up six hits, but she set down nine straight batters midway through the game to help the Oakers open up a lead.
Coventry, which fell behind in Monday’s game, jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning Tuesday. Senior catcher Nikki Bent started the inning with a walk and then a throwing error on a ball hit by Alyssa Derrick moved two runners into scoring position with no outs.
Freshman Kaitlin Mattera scored courtesy runner Natalia Angelone with a sacrifice fly to left field and DeLiberis delivered a sacrifice fly later in the inning to score Derrick.Toll Gate cut its deficit in half when Jamie Hopgood ripped a single up the middle to plate Ingrid Freeman. DeLiberis stranded the bases loaded by forcing Courtney Conklin to ground out to sophomore first baseman Amanda Ritarossi.
Coventry had a chance to blow the game open in the fourth inning when DeLiberis hit a one-out double, senior Tatiana Webb singled and Ball followed with an RBI single to extend the lead to 3-1. But the Oakers’ best hitters, senior Kristin Gallagher and Bent, both hit ground balls to the left side to end the threat.
Errors plagued the visitors as Coventry scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to open up a five-run lead. Webb, Ball and Gallagher each hit one-out singles to load the bases for Bent, who delivered an RBI groundout to extend the lead to 4-1.
The damage should’ve been done when Derrick hit a sharp ground ball to second base, but the ball was misplayed and Ball and Gallagher scored on the play.
Those runs would prove to be crucial because the Titans rallied in the top of the seventh. Toll Gate loaded the bases with two outs when Brooke Sheridan was hit by a pitch to score a run and bring the tying run to the plate in the guise of Conklin, who promptly grounded out to Derrick to end the game.
“Regardless of what the weather was or anything was, you have to come out with a win and we did,” Daigneault said.
Earning a win Wednesday afternoon should prove a little tougher because long-time Division I-South rival North Kingstown comes to town armed with one of the best pitchers in the state- senior righty Taylor Butler – and one of the premier hitters in the state – sophomore shortstop Natalie Wirth.
The teams split last season with North Kingstown winning in Coventry and the Oakers taking a game late in the season at Ryan Park which was meaningless to the I-South champion Skippers.
“Out of everyone we’ve faced in scrimmages and games this season, that will be the best pitcher we’ve faced,’ Daigneault said of Butler. “We haven’t seen anybody like Taylor yet, so it could be tough. We’re probably going to have the same weather.”