SWANZEY CENTER — The tone of Wednesday’s game was set in the bottom of the first inning.
With no one out and Grace LeClair on second base, Monadnock’s Caitlin Stearns hit a line drive off Newport’s Lacey McNeel that rolled through the right fielder’s legs. LeClair came in to score and Stearns turned on the gas, legging it all the way around for an inside-the-park home run (although technically, it goes in the scorebook as a single and a three-base error).
That was the story of this Division III first-round playoff game. The Huskies executed; the Tigers didn’t.
The final result was a 14-2 win in six innings for No. 8 seed Monadnock, which moves past No. 9 Newport and into the quarterfinals for the first time this decade — a big achievement for first-year Coach Chad Beede and his squad.
The Huskies face No. 1 seed Berlin in the next round Saturday at 4 p.m.
“This is my first-ever playoff win. It just feels absolutely amazing,” said pitcher Hannah Coppo, the team’s lone senior.
Beede added: “We stressed all year, from day one, that we were going to play as a team, pick each other up when we were down and just keep fighting and doing our jobs. I basically told them if you do your job, good things will happen, and here we are.”
Taking advantage of opposing mistakes became a theme for the Monadnock offense. Newport — which lost to Monadnock in a much closer game last Friday, 4-3 — finished with six errors, leading to eight unearned runs for McNeel, including each of the Huskies’ first four runs.
“It feels really good,” Stearns said. “That sounds mean, but it feels really good when you realize they made a mistake and you know what to do.”
On the other side, the Monadnock defense had a few mistakes — finishing with three errors — but for the most part was crisp in its play behind Coppo. Although Coppo struck out just four batters, she held the Tigers to two runs, one earned, on five hits and no walks.
“Hannah is very deceiving for a pitcher,” Beede said. “She doesn’t throw that fast, but she has great placement, excellent execution, and she really keeps batters on their toes and off-balance, which really helps, and then a great defense behind her makes her feel confident that she can throw whatever she wants to throw.”
An error at short by Stearns and a wild pitch by Coppo allowed Newport to score its first run in the third, and the second run came in the sixth on a solo home run to straightaway center by Shelby Adams, but nothing could stop the Huskies’ steadily growing momentum.
The team added a third run in the second after Brooke Johnson reached on an error at first, then came in to score on a single by Stearns. In the third, Paige Beede reached safely on an attempted sacrifice bunt, allowing the inning to stay alive so Carly Ayotte could later score on a two-out infield single by Johnson.
While Monadnock scored two cleaner runs in the fourth, on back-to-back RBI singles by Ayotte and Beede, things got messy again in the sixth.
Stearns led with a triple to right-center, then scored on a wild pitch. After back-to-back hits by Madison Swett and Julia Konopka, a groundout by Ayotte drove in Swett and Beede hit into an error at second that brought in Konopka.
The Huskies then strung three straight hits — including a pair of RBI singles by Lauryne Mason and Johnson to drive in Meghan Macheski and Bella LeClair — then end the game ended fittingly, on a pair of errors.
Grace LeClair hit a fly ball off the glove of the right fielder, bringing in Mason and Johnson; two batters later, Swett hit one off the left fielder to bring in LeClair, triggering the mercy rule.
“They made excellent adjustments at the plate,” Beede said of his players. “We’ve been working very hard in the cage and on the field at trying to make adjustments in each at-bat, trying to learn something a little new about the pitcher and make those adjustments … and you could see the result in the last inning.”
Monadnock now rides the momentum of a 10-game winning streak, one which includes a surprising 8-2 win over No. 4 seed Campbell on May 22. But momentum is a different story with Berlin, which finished the regular season 15-1, including a double-header sweep of three-time defending champion and No. 3 seed White Mountains.
In order to have a chance against the division’s top seed, Coach Beede said his team will have to do the same thing it did against Newport: execute.
“We have to be focused, we have to bring fundamentals and we have to hit the ball,” Beede said. “If we do those things, we’re very hard to beat.”