Lady Cougars take crown

Lady Cougars take crown

Members of the North Providence High School softball team mob pitcher Lindsey Cabral in celebration after the team defeated St. Raphael Academy, 3-1, Saturday at Rhode Island College to win the Division II state championship. (Breeze photo by Paul R. Dubois)
First softball state championship since 2001

PROVIDENCE - Displaying the mental toughness coach Janice DiNobile has preached all season, the North Providence High School softball team rammed past an early deficit and toppled St. Raphael Academy, 3-1, to win the Division II state championship Saturday at Rhode Island College.

It was the first Lady Cougar softball state title since 2001.

"I had a good feeling coming into the game because we had a really good workout at the school before coming here," said DiNobile. "I'm really happy for these girls because they've worked so hard."

It was the third time that North Providence had beaten St. Raphael Academy this season, taking a 5-0 decision and then winning a 1-0 classic pitcher's battle between Lady Cougar Lindsey Cabral and the Saints' Kaylee Sylvestre.

In that game, Hannah Dionne knocked in the game's only run with a first-inning double, and she was the batting star again on Saturday, drilling what turned out to be a game-winner two-run single in the first inning, the first of three hits she collected on the day.

Aware that his team had been shut down twice by Cabral, St. Raphael coach Ron Labree ordered his team to be more aggressive at the plate, and they started out that way. Sylvestre, the game's first batter, smacked the first pitch she saw into right field for a single.

She was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt and came around to score on a base knock by Haley Mittsmen. But Cabral settled down and got out of the inning with no further damage.

The Lady Cougars clawed right back in their half of the first inning when center fielder Kelsey Vargas lined a single to right center and Cabral beat out a bunt single. After Kelsey Burgess popped out, DiNobile ordered cleanup hitter Tateana Marulanda to bunt, and she put down a beaut, advancing the runners.

That left it all up to Dionne, who made her coach look like a genius when she pounded the ball through the middle for a two-run, two-out single.

St. Raphael picked up three hits in the second inning, sandwiched around outs, and could not score. The third hit, a scorcher by Sylvester to left field, was hit so hard and retrieved so quickly that the runners could only advance one base.

With two down and the bases juiced, Kamryn Labree lifted a soft liner down the left field line that would have plated at least two runs, but outfielder Katherine DeCorte, who has great speed, got on her horse and snared the ball after a long run.

Although she allowed five hits in the first two innings, Cabral was in control and only allowed three hits the rest of the way.

"I think that she just had championship game nervousness to start things out, but Lindsey is a phenomenal athlete, and she really settled things down," said DiNobile.

It wasn't only her pitching, but her defensive work that stood out. Very quick, Cabral fielded most bunts the Saints put down and threw runners out, and she snared a liner back at her late in the game.

North Providence earned its final run on a bases-loaded walk to Mia Scampoli in the fifth inning, giving them an insurance marker, but it wasn't needed.

The Lady Cougars threatened in the bottom of the sixth when pinch hitter Shavannah Armstrong collected their best hit, a long liner over the center fielder's head that short-hopped the fence for a double. But the team was unable to take advantage.

"It was the seniors who led this team all season and today," said assistant coach Mike Tuorto. Lindsey, Hannah and Kelsey Vargas were all in on the scoring and just turned play after play."

The Lady Cougars, who finished with the best Division II record in the state, closed their season with 15 consecutive wins. Their only loss all year was to Moses Brown, and they allowed the fewest runs all season behind the pitching of Cabral and a strong defense.

The North Providence girls turned every play on Saturday, not making an error.

"I had a lot of confidence in my infield and outfield because they've been making the plays all year," said Cabral. "This is just the best way to end my senior season."

Dionne, who captained the team along with her two fellow seniors Cabral and Vargas, had an outstanding day at third base in addition to belting three hits in as many trips to the plate and collecting two RBI.

"It mattered today," she said after the game. "We wanted to end our senior year with a championship."

DiNobile lavished praise on her team members, pointing out that they were the ones who accomplished the title.

"Lindsey was just something else all year," said DiNobile. "She is definitely a workhorse and pulled us through this thing. But it's a team effort. Individual talent can win games, but when you pull together as a team, you can win championships."