Hopkinton fights off Campbell for Division III softball crown

Photo by CHRIS PANTAZIS Campbell softball captains Abi Gray, Marissa Carignan, and Meghan Gibbs (from left) pose with the Division-3 runner-up trophy after the title game against Hopkinton in Plymouth yesterday.

PLYMOUTH – When it rolled into the Division III championship game at Plymouth State University on Saturday afternoon, the Campbell softball squad was fully intent on finishing its opponent’s 2019 “Cinderella Story” with a rather unhappy ending.

Coach Eric Gibbons’ fourth-seeded Campbell Cougars were taking aim at their first state title since 2015 on that warm and sunny afternoon, but in order to claim it they needed to dispose of a seventh-ranked Hopkinton crew which had reached the big game by knocking off the numbers 10, two, and six squads in tourney play in its own somewhat unexpected climb toward the crown.

The difference in the game – a 2-0 Hopkinton victory – was the all-around play and particularly the pitching of Hawks’ sophomore Megan Kimball-Rines. She hurled a two-hitter, striking out eight and walking just two and driving in her team’s second run with a sizzling triple to the gap in left-center field.

“She pitched well, no question. We were over and under the ball all day,” said Gibbons. “But I’m extremely proud of my girls.”

The Cougars showed just how exceptional their fundamental skills are in the top of the first when they pulled off a little-seen double play by using pretty incredible smarts.

With one out and one on, third baseman Riley Gamache came in for a grounder and threw the batter out at first. The Hopkinton runner who had been on first rounded second and sprinted for third. Campbell outfielder Emily Gamache ran in from left field and covered third, and when the throw came from first baseman Meghan Gibbons, Emily was right there to apply the tag for the twin-killing.

The Cougars then sought to flash their offensive prowess in the bottom of the first, with Hopkinton pitcher Kimball-Rhines handing them two quick walks. The locals had runners on second and third with just one out, but they failed to score as Kimball-Rhines battled back hard.

Pitchers Kimball-Rhines and Campbell’s Maddie Davis and their defenses then ran the show for a while, keeping things scoreless until the top of the fourth when the Hawks loaded the bases with two outs and Davis walked in the first run. But Campbell’s tight defense wouldn’t allow any more in that frame, and the bases remained jammed with the score now at 1-0.

The Hopkinton hurler, who held ninth-ranked Belmont to just two hits in leading her squad to a big semifinal win – got stronger as play rolled along. And Kimball-Rhines was responsible for getting her crew its second run of the game when she hammered a two-out triple to left-center field to score a teammate from

third base.

Now trailing 2-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth – and boasting just one hit – Campbell really had to get down to business on offense if possible.

Marissa Carignan took over in the pitching circle for the Cougars in the top of the sixth with Davis having pitched well (five innings, six hits, two strikeouts, two walks) and the locals hoping to keep their deficit down at just two runs.

The reliever ran into some trouble with walks, so three batters in Davis was back on the rubber. And the Hawks wound up stranding two runners on base without scoring any more. Those were the sixth and seventh runners had left on base by Hopkinton.

Campbell got the tying run to the plate in the latter half of the sixth – ending Kimball-Rines’ string of getting 11 batters out in a row on a fielding error – but couldn’t score.

The locals got the tying run on base in the bottom of the seventh as well but could go no further in ultimately falling by the 2-0 score.

Campbell wound up stranding four runners on base, with the 2019 state champions managing a modest six hits off of Cougar pitching.

Campbell had rolled into the finals as the division’s number four seed and boasting a 16-3 overall record.

Gibbons’ Cougar crew started its 2019 campaign with a pretty astounding 11-0 record before slumping some in going just 2-3 in its final five battles to wind up at 13-3.

The locals then knocked off number 13 Winnisquam in the preliminary round, number five Bishop Brady in the quarterfinals, and finally top-seeded Berlin to reach the biggest game.

Seventh-ranked Hopkinton stepped into the title battle with a 15-4 overall record and three straight tourney wins, including its semifinal success over number six Belmont. Campbell and Hopkinton faced off in May on the latter squad’s home field, with the Cougars claiming a 14-8 win.The Cougar softball program has produced some four state championships, with the last coming in 2015.

That was also the last time Campbell played in a title game.