MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Union High School softball team, buoyed by the continued return to health of junior starting pitcher Jess Gipson and a balanced attack, picked up a much-needed win on Thursday, 8-6 over visiting South Burlington.
The Tigers led, 8-1, when Gipson, making her first start after returning from a shoulder injury, left the mound after four strong innings.
Sophomore Kristen Gosselin struggled with her control for two innings as the Rebels rallied, but in the seventh allowed just one baserunner and struck out two to preserve the two-run lead for the 5-10 Tigers.
The Tigers have also dealt with other injuries and academic woes that have prevented them from enjoying the kind of season they have in recent years and that they expected to have this spring.
Junior catcher and co-captain Mattea Bagley, who drilled a two-run double in the Tigers’ four-run fourth, said Thursday’s win will give the Tigers a lift heading into this week’s Division II playoffs.
“I think it’s a good pickup for us … to go into the playoffs with our heads held high,” Bagley said.
Having Gipson on the mound clearly gives the Tigers a spark, she said.
“It just seems to mesh back together. It’s like a light switch, I guess, you could say,” Bagley said.
Coach Marie Eugair-Newell agreed the Tigers’ needed Thursday’s shot in the arm after all the adversity.
“It’s huge for this team,” Eugair-Newell said. “The morale, it was getting low. We needed this win, absolutely,”
Eight Tigers had hits, eight scored runs, and five picked up RBIs as the team got production from all quarters.
Middlebury jumped on top, 2-0, in the first. Gipson walked and first baseman Liz Dwire bunted her way on. After Bagley forced Gipson at third, third baseman Shanyn Leduc singled Dwire home. Bagley scored when Rebel hurler Kate Fitzpatrick uncorked a wild pitch.
After Gipson worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second by fanning Rebel leadoff hitter Haleigh Hayes, the Tigers added two more runs. DH Courtney Crane reached on a dropped third strike, and the Tigers loaded the bases on singles by second baseman Theresa Huestis and shortstop Nicole Rheaume. After a force at home, Dwire scored Huestis on a grounder. Rheaume scored when the Rebel second baseman couldn’t handle Bagley’s line shot.
The Rebels got their only run off Gipson in the fourth on a rare Bagley passed ball. SB also loaded the bases on two more singles and a hit-batter, but Gipson ended the threat and her day by getting Fitzpatrick to fly out to Erin Connor in center field.
Then the Tigers erupted for four runs in the fourth. Rheaume reached on her second single, and she raced to third on Gipson’s sac bunt. Dwire then hit a slow roller and reached on a fielder’s choice when the Rebels chose not to try to throw to first and give Rheaume a chance to score. That strategy backfired when nobody covered second and Dwire alertly took the extra base, and then Bagley scorched a double to left center to make it 6-1.
Leduc then walked, and a single by left fielder Brooke Zeno loaded the bases. Connor’s sacrifice fly scored Bagley, and a throwing error allowed Leduc to come around and make it 8-1.
Gosselin then came on for Gipson, who had pitched two innings the day before and is working toward full strength for next week’s playoffs. Gosselin, a JV callup, has filled in well this spring, but had trouble finding the strike zone for two innings; in all, she walked six, threw five wild pitches and allowed two hits in three innings while fanning three.
The Rebels scored two in the fifth without a hit, and three in the sixth after an Allyssa Gamelin single, two walks and two wild pitches and one of the Tigers’ three errors. The sixth could have been more problematic if Dwire, moved to right field, had not thrown out the leadoff hitter trying to stretch a single into a double.
After the error, Gosselin rallied to retire five of the final six hitters and nail down the win.
Eugair-Newell said Gosselin has the attitude and talent to succeed in the long run.
“She doesn’t give up. She just keeps pushing along,” she said. “She can only get better.”
But Gipson will hopefully be back on the mound to help the Tigers make the kind of playoff run they had expected to make all along.
“That’s my plan, anyway,” Eugair-Newell said. “That’s what I hope for. I think we can be a force to be reckoned with once we get everybody healthy and out there.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.