PROVIDENCE - Julia Bollentin couldn’t find the trophy she was looking for.
“I remember being in the hallway in the high school when I was little, looking and seeing no championships under softball,” Bollentin said.
She and a lot of her friends played softball. She had a passing thought that they would end the drought someday.
Now, the next young softball player scanning the trophy cases will see some hardware.
The Rebels beat Scituate 4-2 on Sunday at Rhode Island College to capture the Division II championship, the first title in the history of the school’s fast-pitch program.
“We’ve worked for four years, for more than four years,” senior pitcher Sam Hutchins said. “Since we were little, we worked for a state championship. It’s amazing. I can’t even describe the feeling. To come from almost nothing to this is an amazing feeling.”
South Kingstown had won championships in slow-pitch softball, but hadn’t come close since fast-pitch took hold in the state, posting one winning season from 2001 to 2016. When a freshman class of experienced fast-pitch players - the current seniors - joined the program in 2016, things started to change. With help from talent in the classes above and below them, the core group led the Rebels to a 13-4 season in 2017. After a slight step back last year, the Rebels emerged as one of the top teams in D-II this spring.
“We’ve gotten better each year,” Bollentin said. “Last year was a little bit rough but I knew we had the talent and we would be really strong this year.”
The success came with caveats. The Rebels clearly had the best offense in the league, but it had faltered against the top pitchers in the division. St. Raphael’s Sami Symonds was too much and Scituate’s Haley Venturini was way too much, striking out 17 Rebels in a regular-season matchup.
There was also South Kingstown’s own pitching. Hutchins is an experienced and talented pitcher but not the kind of strikeout artist that typically dominates in the postseason.
The questions remained in a 5-3 winners bracket final loss to Scituate, but the Rebels saw hints of answers. They had been able to put the ball in play against Venturini, the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, and the Spartans’ offense had taken advantage of six Rebel errors. Hutchins allowed only three hits, continuing a postseason run that saw her pitching as well as she had in her entire career.
When the Rebels earned another shot at Scituate thanks to a dramatic win over Rogers in the losers bracket final, they entered the rematch with new belief.
“She’s an amazing pitcher - Gatorade Player of the Year, amazing, best pitcher in the state no doubt about it,” Hutchins said. “Getting those few hits in that game we lost I think gave us confidence.”
With a 2-1 win on Saturday, the Rebels forced a winner-take-all championship game and went to work. After giving up a run in the top of the first inning, they scored two in the bottom half. Faith Hutchins singled, stole second and moved to third on an error, then came around on a wild pitch. Keaira Richardson walked, stole second and third, and scored on an RBI double by Bollentin.
“We wanted to run everybody,” head coach Steve Chadwick said. “That puts a lot of pressure on them. And what happens with a pitcher like that, they’re trying to squeeze us because they don’t think anyone can hit her. If you put the ball in play, now they have to play.”
“We really worked on shortening up our swings, just bat to ball, not full swings,” Bollentin said. “Because she’s providing a lot of the power since she’s so quick.”
Venturini struck out three around the first-inning traffic and would go on to punch out 11 for the game. But the early offense held up for much of the game, with Hutchins and steady defense behind her plowing through the Scituate lineup.
“My team was behind me 100 percent the whole time. I’m not a strikeout pitcher,” Hutchins said. “I know that. I just try to pitch to places to get them to hit the ball to someone on my team. My team made the plays and they did a great job having my back the entire time. I couldn’t thank them more.”
Scituate tied the game in the sixth but that trusty defense kept things from getting worse. After a wild pitch scored the tying run, senior Olivia Santucci - her face covered in dust from the play at the plate - yelled at her team, saying they still had it. Sure enough, the next batter hit a ground ball to third base, where Liz Maciocio started a 5-2-3 double play. A groundout ended the inning.
“Got a little nervous there in the sixth inning, but we got that big double play,” Chadwick said. “I just didn’t want them to go ahead. If we were tied, we had the middle of the lineup coming up and I knew we could come right back.”
Maciocio drew a walk to start the bottom of the sixth and Faith Hutchins followed with a slicing fly ball to right that went for a triple and plated the go-ahead run. Hutchins then raced in on a wild pitch to make it 4-2.
“She walked Liz and Faith was right on it today,” Chadwick said. “If she puts the ball in play, she’s going to be somewhere.”
Back in front, Sam Hutchins and the Rebel defense shined one last time. Faith Hutchins made a good play on a ground ball at shortstop and Maciocio logged the second out when she handled a hard-hit grounder at third. Venturini, also her team’s top hitter, represented the final hurdle and hit a sinking line drive to right field. Hannah Loftes charged it and made a diving catch for the championship-clinching out.
“I saw it coming in short and I was like, ‘It’s now or never,’” Loftes said. “When it ended up in my glove, I was like, ‘Oh my god. I caught it.’ Then everybody was just running out to me.”
It was a rare right field celebration as the Rebels went wild. Soon after, they doused coaches Chadwick and Mark Hutchins with bottles of water and Gatorade.
Then they grabbed the plaque they’d been looking for all along.
“There’s no way to describe it. It feels amazing,” Sam Hutchins said. “We’ve all worked so hard for four years and it means the world. We play inside of school together. We play outside of school together. We all love each other so much and this is such a great way to leave.”