NORTH KINGSTOWN — The return would have been special regardless.
And then the North Kingstown softball team won its season opener on a walk-off.
Sophia Tingley’s sacrifice fly scored Mackenzie Creed with the winning run as the Skippers beat North Providence 9-8 in extra innings Friday at Ryan Park, a dramatic start to the long-awaited 2021 season.
“It was great,” senior Emily Tow said. “Everybody has been working really hard and it felt really good to win this game, starting the season strong.”
A few standouts return from the team that made the playoffs in 2019 but it’s mostly a new-look group following the 2020 cancellation. Frias is also new at the helm, hired before the pandemic but coaching his first game more than a year later. He was thinking of the late Dick Fossa, who hired him.
“To take on this team after everything that happened with COVID and losing Mr. Fossa, it’s emotional,” Frias said. “Getting our first win like this, they made the program proud today.”
The Skippers started strong. Pitcher Emily Baierlein escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first before her team created the same situation in the home half on three straight hits by Isabella Frenzilli, Kathryn Bourgeois and Emily Tow. After Frenzilli was forced out at home, Bourgeois scored on the throw back to first. Tow came in on a fielder’s choice by Tingley.
After North Providence got on the board with a run in the second inning, North Kingstown broke the game open with five runs in the third. Tingley and Ava Giguere knocked RBI singles and Julianna Bucci delivered an RBI fielder’s choice. Frenzilli added an RBI single and Bourgeois smacked an RBI double.
Baierlein was working on a run of three straight scoreless innings when North Providence came to life in the fifth inning. Two walks, an error and a clutch hit got the Cougars within 7-5.
The Skippers had a chance to stop the comeback there, but another rally happened in the Cougars’ last at-bat. Two doubles sparked a three-run surge that gave North Providence the lead. Tow came on in relief and kept the damage from getting worse, retiring two straight hitters to keep it a one-run game.
Down to its last three outs, North Kingstown wasted no time getting an extension. Giguere led off the bottom of the seventh with a ground ball to third base. The throw to first base was mishandled and Giguere broke for second, then third. The throw back to that side of the diamond hit Giguere as she slid in to the bag. As it rolled away, she popped up and raced home with the tying run.
“Ava Giguere really came through in the clutch,” Frias said. “She put the ball in a play, couple of errors and she put the pressure on.”
North Kingstown left the winning run at second, but Tow worked a perfect top of the eighth, then went to work at the plate. The Umass-Lowell signee led off the bottom of the eighth with a triple to deep center field.
“Just stay calm, regular at bat, line drives,” Tow said of her approach.
After two intentional walks, the Cougars forced Tow out at home on a ground ball. But Tingley followed with a fly ball to right field, deep enough to plate Creed with the winning run.
“I think it gets everybody pumped up and excited to play,” Tow said of the win.
The Skippers hope the win is the start of a good ride. They’re now three years removed from their run of three championships in four seasons, but they’d love to get back.
“Looking to keep the winning tradition at NK,” Frias said.