Head coach Bill Aquilante was a little nervous before the Pilgrim softball team’s season opener on Tuesday.
Maybe he should have known better.
“I was nervous all day, probably because it was the first game,” Aquilante said. “I had a lot of butterflies this morning. But I know what to expect from them because they’re a veteran team.”
The veteran team delivered.
The Pats pounded out 13 hits, didn’t make an error in the field and got a steady performance by pitcher Carly Cabral en route to a 9-3 victory over Cranston East at the Brayton Avenue Softball Complex in Cranston.
In short, it was just what the Pats envisioned.
Last year, the team started to turn the corner, breaking a string of seven straight losing seasons by posting a 9-7 record. With seven starters back in the fold, the Pats were thinking big throughout the preseason.
Tuesday represented a strong first step.
“We played well,” Aquilante said. “It feels great to get off to a good start.”
The Pats raced out of the gates against a young Cranston East team, batting around in the top of the first inning. Cabral started things with a single. Kelsey Johnston followed with a double to left, moving Cabral to third. Cabral scored on an errant pickoff attempt.
Witashnah Ellsworth brought Johnston home with an infield hit. Stephanie Johnson then reached on an error and Lauren Peladeau legged out an infield hit to load the bases. Stefani Quaine followed with a ground ball to shortstop. East’s Alexa St. Angelo fielded it but first baseman Jaylyn Lomba came off the bag to catch the throw, allowing Quaine to reach and Ellsworth to score.
The three runs were all the Pats got in the first, but they figured they’d be primed for more. East, though, didn’t make it easy. The ’Bolts scored a run in the bottom of the first on an RBI groundout by St. Angelo, and added another in the third on an RBI triple by Alexis McCarten.
East pitcher Paula Frost also held Pilgrim scoreless in the second and third innings.
Aquilante wasn’t surprised.
“At the top, they’ve got some top-flight talent and they have some freshmen who are good players,” he said. “I think it’s an advantage to get them early because I think you’re going to see them really start to get better as the season goes on.”
That said, the ’Bolts were already looking pretty good Tuesday, and they went into the fourth trailing by just a run.
But Pilgrim never looked the slightest bit flustered. Cabral allowed at least one base-runner in every inning but continually worked out of trouble. The defense made every play behind her.
And eventually, the offense got back in gear.
Katelyn Reph doubled with two outs in the fourth and Cabral brought her home with a base hit to make it 4-2.
Then in the sixth, the Pats blew the game open. Danielle LeBlanc led off with an infield hit, stole second and scored on a single by Reph. The wheels were in motion again as Reph then stole second. Cabral reached on a bunt single and took second when no one was covering the bag.
Johnston followed with a two-run single to left.
“We made stuff happen in that sixth inning,” Aquilante said. “That was big. Danielle got on base and stole second. Katelyn singles and she steals. Carly drops the bunt and she gets to second. Now, we’ve caused mayhem. With certain people we have in the lineup, we can create that. We can make things happen.”
Pilgrim added two more runs in the sixth as Johnston scored on a single by Caitlin Blanchard, who later came around on an error.
“We were looking at the batting order and realizing we were going to have to go through their best hitters in the seventh,” Aquilante said. “We were hoping to have a couple of runs for a cushion, and we got them. That was big.”
East tacked on a run in the bottom of the seventh when St. Angelo tripled and scored on a single by McCarten, but that was the end of the line. Cabral got a groundout to end the game.
Cabral ended up with six strikeouts for the Pats, and she also led the way at the plate, going 5-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Reph and Johnston added two hits and two runs scored apiece.
“To see that production at the top of the order is great,” Aquilante said.
Now the Pats will see if they can deliver against some tougher competition. They’ll host defending Division II state champion East Greenwich today at 3:30 p.m. In addition to a marquee match-up, it’ll be the first game for Pilgrim at its new Winslow Park home field.
“They’ve got to be the favorite,” Aquilante said. “They return their best players, and they’ve got good players up and down the lineup. We’re going to need to score runs. It’s going to be a fun. It’s a good early-season game.”