LOWELL, Mass. -- The Dracut High softball team starts four sophomores and two freshmen, but you wouldn’t think it when you watch them play.
The Middies have taken on all comers with poise, even as the stakes have gotten higher. The trend continued Sunday afternoon with a 6-1 win over another young team, Danvers, in the MIAA Division 2 North semifinals at Martin Field.
Sophomore second baseman Kaleigh Bishop-Kotarba had the big hit in the bottom of the fifth for Dracut (22-1), a two-out, bases loaded single that wound up clearing the bases after an error in the outfield. That hit made it a 6-1 game.
Bishop-Kotarba finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBI.
“Kaleigh’s been doing that all season,” said Middies head coach George Roy. “She had 26 RBI coming into the playoffs. She’s done it for us all year. Every time we need that big hit, she’s there. She’s having a great year.”
Junior pitcher Lauren Ramirez finished the game in style after that. Falcon freshman third baseman Caitlin McBride led off the top of the sixth with a walk, but Ramirez struck out the next five batters she faced. After a base hit from Danvers sophomore pitcher Kendall Meehan, Ramirez induced a ground ball off the bat of junior second baseman Chrissy Gikas to end the game.
Ramirez and Bishop-Kotarba both had RBI singles in the bottom of the first to stake the Middies to a 2-0 lead, and even then, Roy said he felt comfortable with Ramirez on the mound.
“Once we get those one or two, I feel very confident we’re gonna win the game,” Roy said. “Tonight, they (the defense) were a little shaky in the beginning because they were nervous, but for the most part they play real good ‘D’ behind her.”
Danvers (19-4) scored an unearned run in the top of the second. McBride started the inning with a walk and got to second when sophomore first baseman Devyn Downs reached on an infield error. A one-out infield single by junior center fielder Julia Saggese loaded the bases, and after a strikeout, freshman shortstop Brittany Dougal singled to score McBride.
Meehan settled in after allowing two runs in the first, retiring nine of the 10 batters she faced in innings 2-4. Ramirez matched her zero for zero, with a bunt single by Saggese the only blemish against the Dracut hurler in the middle innings.
Freshman right fielder Madison Ryan led off Dracut’s four-run fifth with a single to right on an 0-2 pitch. An error on senior center fielder Amanda Vallante’s sacrifice bunt attempt put runners on the corners, and freshman left fielder Samantha Durand knocked in Ryan with a single to right to make it 3-1.
Dracut sophomore shortstop Allison Ramirez beat out a bunt to load the bases with nobody out, but Meehan looked like she’d get out of the jam with a strikeout and pop fly against the next two hitters. Bishop-Kotarba came up with her big hit, however, and the game was out of reach.
The error meant three of those four runs were unearned, and Falcon head coach Tara Petrocelli admitted after the game that giving Dracut that extra out hurt her team. With that said, she praised her team’s overall effort.
“I thought we played well. I thought we left it all out on the field,” Petrocelli said. “A lot of people didn’t give us half a shot to even be where we are.”
The Falcons, who finish the season 19-4, will certainly be given that shot in 2013. Danvers had three sophomores and three freshmen in its starting lineup Sunday.
“We have a nice nucleus for next year,” Petrocelli said. “Come next March, we’ll put the best team together and we’ll see what we can do.”
Only one team could move on, however, and it’s Dracut. Lauren Ramirez said she and her young teammates aren’t fazed by the big stage of the MIAA state tournament.
“We’ve all played travel, so we’ve all been there,” Ramirez said. “We’ve all been in big games. We’re a really deep team, so I feel like that helps that a lot of us have the experience.”
Danvers will play Winchester (16-5) Monday at 3:30 p.m. at Martin Field for the Division 2 North title. You can likely expect a low-scoring game: Sachem sophomore pitcher Rachael Smith has shut out Reading, Saugus and Newburyport during Winchester’s postseason run. The run Danvers scored Sunday, meanwhile, the first one allowed by Dracut in its three tournament games.
Web gems: Both teams had noteworthy defensive plays in the late innings.
The play of the game came in the bottom of the sixth, when Danvers junior left fielder Nicole Smith caught a fly ball and then threw out Dracut sophomore first baseman Shannon Ramirez trying to score from third. Falcon senior catcher Samantha DiBella had home plate blocked well and applied the tag.
In the top of the fifth, with one out and a runner on first, Gikas tried to bunt her way on base. Dracut knew what was coming, and had its infielders in and the outfielders on the edge of the grass. Allison Ramirez fielded the ball cleanly and fired to Vallante at second base for the force.
Mark that “FC, 6-8” on your scorecard.