BRANDON — The Otter Valley Union High School softball team late last week twice won in its last at-bat and gave long-time coach Pattie Candon her 300th win as OV’s softball coach. (See story.)
That milestone win came on Thursday, when OV erased a 5-0 deficit to defeat visiting Hartford, 6-5, in eight innings. In that game, the Hurricanes misplayed Taylor Aines’ pop-up into a single that plated Brittany Bushey with the decisive run.
On Friday, the Otters scored twice in the bottom of the seventh to top visiting Springfield, 5-4. Aines led off with a single, and when the Cosmos misplayed Laura Roberts’ ground ball, the runners ended up on second and third. Both scored on a single by Cortney Polcjacik, who drove in all five OV runs.
OV moved to 9-7, good unofficially for the No. 7 seed and a first-round home game in the Division II playoffs, with Lake Region (8-8) a possible opponent. The Otters were set to find out for sure early on Monday, when the Vermont Principals’ Association was set to release playoff pairings.
Friday’s result fulfilled a prediction Bushey made after Thursday’s win, which snapped a four-game skid and a frustrating wait for Candon’s milestone.
“I think it gave us a big boost. (The 300th win) took a while, but now that it’s happened it’s a good hump to get over,” Bushey said.
Aines also might have turned her pitching fortunes around during Thursday’s game. Hartford (4-11-1) took its 5-0 lead in the first three innings, when she walked eight, hit two batters and tossed five wild pitches. Aines allowed just one hit in those frames, a first-inning single.
But in the final five innings, Aines allowed just four more walks and one more hit; she finished with eight strikeouts. On Friday, Aines, who has struggled with her control in recent weeks, walked only three and tossed a five-hitter.
Aines said she told herself to “just relax” after her shaky start on Thursday.
“What happened before, I had no control over. And the only thing, the pitch in front of me, is what I have control over now, so make it count,” she said.
OV had also played errorless ball on Thursday. Bushey handled six chances cleanly, and first baseman Brandi Heath threw out a runner at home in the seventh to complete an inning-ending double play.
In that game, OV started to rally in the third. Kelli Jerome walked, and pinchrunner Olivia Bloomer came around to score on a Bushey single, a walk to Aines and a wild pitch by losing hurler Kaitlyn Woodward (who had the only hits off Aines).
In the fifth, OV scored three. Bushey and Amy Jones led off with bunt singles, Aines drove them in with a double scorched to left, and Poljacik doubled in Aines. OV tied the game in the seventh thanks to Hartford errors, one on a ball hit by Aines, who stole second and scored when Hartford made two miscues on a ball hit by Poljacik.
That set up the seventh. Pinchhitter Maia Edmunds singled to lead off, and Bushey beat out an infield hit. Edmunds was forced at third, and with two out Aines hit a towering pop-up that the Hurricanes let drop as Bushey raced around from second.
Bushey, who had three of OV’s eight hits, said the Otters believed they could rally even they trailed by five.
“We just didn’t give up. We thought we could do it,” she said. “We knew we had it in us, and we came back.”
On Friday, Poljacik doubled home three runs in the first, and Jones and Aines added two hits apiece to spark OV’s offense. OV led, 3-0, before the 7-9 Cosmos rallied to take the lead and set up the Otters’ second straight day of late heroics.
Especially with Aines apparently back on track, Candon said the Otters could do some postseason damage.
“They’re going to surprise some people,” Candon said. “They (other teams) are going to take some things for granted, and we’re going to just pull out the surprise party.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.