By ANDY KIRKALDY
BRANDON — An eighth-inning single by Kristy Pinkham, three double plays, Sam Hansen’s squeeze bunt and the usual stellar pitching of Ashley Sanderson on Tuesday accomplished a lot for the Otter Valley Union High School softball team.
Not only did those key efforts give the Otters’ a 2-1 win over rival Rutland, their second over the Division I Raiders (11-4) this spring, but the result may have nailed down the No. 1 seed in Division II for 14-1 OV.
According to the unofficial standings on the Vermont Principals’ Association Web site, OV has 67 quality points with one game left, this Thursday at home versus Springfield. Second-place Harwood (13-1), the only team even close in the rankings, has 58 points with two games to go, but can only reach 66 points even if the Highlanders win both.
Of course, the Otters have earned the top seed before in recent years only to be upset in the playoffs. But Hansen, a senior four-year starter at second base, said this year’s squad — with eight seniors on the roster — has different plans.
“We’ve got all those seniors, so I think this is the year we’re going to push through,” said Hansen, who was involved in two double plays and racked up four assists and four putouts.
Longtime OV coach Pattie Candon agrees her team will carry a positive attitude into the postseason.
“I feel good, confident,” Candon said. “The kids know they’re capable of playing good ball.”
Tuesday’s game qualified as good ball for both teams. The teams combined for just one error — Pinkham dropped a pop-up that didn’t figure in the scoring — and made some fine plays behind two strong pitchers.
Both Sanderson and Rutland’s Katherine Cohen struck out seven. Sanderson allowed three hits and one walk, while Cohen allowed six hits, three of which were bunts and three by Pinkham.
OV struck first in the third inning. Catcher Amanda Sanderson walked, and speedy courtesy runner Michaela Harrington stole second and moved to third on Jenna Pelkey’s ground-out. Hansen bunted, and Harrington scored on the throw to first.
Rutland got its first base-runner, hit and threat in the fifth. Emily Louras reached on Pinkham’s miscue, and Liz Carrara blooped a soft single over first base. Sam Snitker then tried a bunt, but first baseman Ashlee Bird raced in, caught it on the fly, and threw to Hansen at first to double Carrara off base. Sanderson fanned the next batter to end the threat.
Michelle Lefebvre singled in the bottom of the inning for OV, but a good defensive play by RHS first basemen Sam Tuepker kept OV at bay.
Rutland scored in the sixth. Tuepker singled, and pinch runner Sara Alexander came around on a bunt, groundout and a wild pitch.
OV threatened in the sixth. Hansen singled, and raced to third on Pinkham’s bunt single, with Pinkham taking second on the throw to third with none out. But Cohen struck out the next two hitters as they tried to bunt, and Tuepker retired the final hitter.
In the Raider seventh, No. 3 hitter Theresa Goodwin hit a leadoff single, but Harrington, now in right field, caught a fly ball one out later and doubled her off first base to end the inning. In the eighth, Sanderson walked the leadoff batter, and RHS bunted her to second. Then Tuepker smoked a line drive to Hansen’s right at first base, and Hansen snared it and doubled the runner off second to end another threat.
Candon said she has been happy to pencil Hansen’s name in the lineup for four years.
“She’s my heart and soul out there,” she said. “If the ball’s not in the catcher’s glove on a strikeout, I want it in her glove.”
Hansen said she and the other Otters were happy to have Sanderson’s back.
“It was a big defense game, which is normally not the case, because she’s normally up there striking everybody out and we don’t get any balls,” she said. “So it’s nice to give her a break.”
In the eighth, OV won quickly. Harrington easily beat out a bunt single and stole second. After Hansen walked, Pinkham couldn’t get a bunt down. Instead, with two strikes she grounded a sharp single up the middle, and the Raiders had no chance to nail Harrington at home.
And regardless of the playoffs to come, the Otters will have won at least 14 games again and posted another victory over their big-city rivals.
“It’s always going to be a good game (against Rutland),” Candon said. “They live for these games. I think any ballplayer would live for these games.”