MANCHESTER — The Division II softball championship game was not fit for the faint-hearted fans, though few were probably in attendance at Southern New Hampshire University when fourth-seeded Portsmouth right fielder Molly Shoer gloved the championship-clinching out in a 1-0 win over Kennett of Conway.
The third-seeded Eagles had the potential tying and winning runs in scoring position when Sam Janos fouled off two tough two-strike pitches before striking a hard liner at Shoer.
The drama was expected by the 321 faithful fans in attendance, as both teams posted thrilling come-from-behind semifinal victories, each plating three runs in the bottom of the seventh to post one-run walk-off trips to the championship game.
Kennett had but one chance for a comeback bid, as the Clippers tallied the game's lone run in the top the seventh.
A resourceful Portsmouth offense utilized an infield error, stolen base, wild pitch and Moriah Crisp's seeing-eye single just over a drawn in infield to score Sarah Winchell with no outs in the top of the seventh.
“It felt really good to get that hit, even though it didn't go very far,” said Crisp, wearing the championship medal but still feeling anxious about the seventh inning. She threw a two-hitter, striking out six. “We had a hard time scoring.”
After Crisp's hit, the Clippers then loaded the bases, but Kennett's sophomore pitcher Vonde Saunders, who escaped jams all game long, ended the threat by fielding a pop fly and grounder, giving her 3-4-5 hitters one last chance for a comeback bid.
“We had the batters we wanted up,” said Kennett coach Peter Ames said of the trio, who engineered the walk-off semifinal comeback. “We led off with a double, but just didn't get the next hit.
"It was a great game. We would have liked to win, but I'm still very proud of this team.”
Faye Roberts roped a leadoff double. Shortstop Christina Jones snared Lauren White's liner. Ashley Smith engineered a two-out walk, making Portsmouth pretty nervous.
“I was just really trying to focus on one batter and not on the fact that they had the winning runners on base that could score in any second,” said Crisp. "I mean, we watched them come back in their semifinal just like we did. It was nerve-wracking. My fingers were shaking.”
“There was never a moment I wasn't nervous,” said first-year Portsmouth coach Kim Grenon. “We should have had a lot more runs, but their pitcher did a good job keeping us off balance.”
The Clippers stranded a runner at third the first two innings and put runners aboard in the third, but Saunders ended the threat with three strikeouts. Through five innings, Portsmouth stranded six base runners. Saunders went the distance, allowing six hits and striking out three.
Meanwhile Portsmouth ace Crisp, who recorded her 500th career strikeout in a first-round win, allowed one hit, a Sam Jonos bloop to right in the second, while striking out six through six. Sarah Winchell made an over-the-shoulder catch to rob Janos in center in the fifth.
Crisp and classmate Courtney Blanchette bookended their Portsmouth careers with softball championships. The Eagles were seeking their fifth title in their seventh championship game trip, having last won in 2002.
“What a dramatic ending,” said Grenon. “I didn't like being the visiting team and having to protect the lead (against Kennett). We were the home team in our other three tournament games. But, we pulled it off.”
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Eric Emmerling may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.