PITTSFIELD - It may still be a long and somewhat treacherous row to hoe if the Berkshire Force hopes to win a Babe Ruth Softball 16-Under World Series title. But the Force made that road a little less precarious Saturday night.
Ashley Keegan gave up one unearned run on five hits in going the distance as the Force won its elimination-bracket opener, scoring a 11-1, mercy-rule win over Massachusetts state champion Plymouth at the Doyle Complex. The game lasted six innings.
"We weren't planning on this one. We were planning on playing [Saturday night] at 8:30 in the winners' bracket, but it happens," Force outfielder Jill Campbell said. "We're just going to rebound."
Saturday started off fine for the Force, but they were knocked into the elimination bracket in the early afternoon as Mariah Mendoza tossed a four-hit shutout in Lodi, Calif.'s 3-0 win. The Force had beaten the Waretown (N.J.) Thunder 7-1 in Saturday's first game.
The Force will be up early today. They have an 8:30 a.m. elimination game against St. Charles Parish, La. The Force beat them 8-1 in the second game of pool play.
The loss by Plymouth knocks them into the Commissioner's Cup tournament, which also begins today. That tourney is for teams out of contention for the World Series title.
In the must-win game, Keegan did it on offense and defense. The Force's cleanup hitter went 2 for 3 with a double and scored two runs.
It was a far cry from the last time Keegan got a start. She was the starter in Friday's game against Hoquiam, Wash., and lasted only one inning.
"I knew that I had to do better than last night, just because I needed to pick myself up from what happened," she said.
Keegan threw 11 pitches in the first inning and retired the first three Plymouth hitters in order. Offensively, the Force helped Keegan out by scoring a run in the first and six more in the second.
"It made me feel like I got off to a great start, much better than Friday," said the right-hander. "I knew when they started making plays, it was OK if I missed my spot because they'd get to the ball."
Leading 1-0 after one inning, the Force erupted for six runs on four hits in the second inning. They sent nine batters to the plate. The key hit of the inning was a two-run triple to right by Kayla Kowalczyk. Kowalczyk took a 1-0 pitch from Plymouth's Kaitlyn Utz into the right-field gap. Allie Hunt and Keegan scampered home with the sixth and seventh runs of the game.
That hit capped off a really good day for Kowalczyk. The third baseman was 3 for 5 in three games on Saturday with four RBI.
The final game ended in the sixth when Kacey Sondrini's RBI double made it 10-1. A wild pitch and a walk to Erin Murphy later, Megan Boyle's ground out plated Sondrini with the game-ending run.
The Force's Hunt had come into Saturday hitting a torrid .538 with three home runs and 11 RBI. Her bat came into play in a key inning against Lodi.
Lodi had taken a 2-0 lead and nursed that into the top of the sixth. The Force's Kowalczyk led off with a single and took second on Julia Murphy's one-out walk.
After Mendoza struck out Tobin, Allie Hunt put a charge into an 0-1 pitch. The ball sailed to deep center, but center fielder Jamie Lewis had to make only two steps back to make the rally- and inning-ending catch.
"Obviously, everybody knows who Allie Hunt is. She had a couple of big hits in the first couple of games, and we said OK, that's the stud," said Lodi manager Harvey Casillas. "We camped out and that was the difference.
"If you play a traditional center field, the ball goes over her head and that's the difference in the game."
Lodi scored a run in the third inning, as Veronica Smith and Shelly Featherston led off with singles. Thalia Rosette forced Featherston at second and, as shortstop Hunt tried to complete a double play, Smith hustled around third and scored. It was the first earned run Force starter Julia Murphy gave up in the tournament.
Lodi scored unearned runs in the fourth and sixth innings.
Keegan reached on an error to start the seventh for the Force, but pinch runner Desrochers was left at first as Lodi won.
In the morning opener, the Force outscored Waretown 6-1 over the final four innings to get the win.
The Force was no-hit by Alyssa Ward for three innings, but that changed in the fourth. Keegan drove in a run with a single behind shortstop and Koldys drove in Keegan with a triple. Koldys overran the bag and was tagged out.
Kowalczyk went 1 for 2 with an RBI single and a sacrifice fly. Koldys had a single and an RBI double.