ELLSWORTH — People love a good underdog story. The multimillion-dollar industry that is March Madness is built on the simple premise that it’s exciting when a team that isn’t supposed to win, does.
What often gets lost is that on the other side of that bracket there’s a team that was supposed to win but didn’t. A team that was a higher seed because it deserved to be. A team that battled to a 13-4 record under a first-year head coach. A team that outscored its opponents 134-41 on the season behind dominant pitching from ace Tyler Hellum and a talented squad that backed her up in the field and at the plate. A team that fought until the very end but came up just short. A team like Ellsworth.
An otherwise dominant season came to an end Saturday as visiting Hermon eked out a 4-3 upset victory to advance in the 2022 MPA Softball Class B Championships.
Ellsworth beat Hermon twice in two games during the regular season, 6-4 and 4-2. The Eagles had just steamrolled their first two opponents in the tournament, Caribou and Cony, by a combined score of 26-1. The only team they couldn’t beat this season, rival Mount Desert Island, had been knocked out one round earlier by this same Hermon team.
Everything seemed to be falling into place until Hermon’s Lyndsee Reed drove a pitch over the fence with one out in the first inning and put the Hawks up 2-0. Ellsworth trailed for the first time this postseason.
The Eagles responded, though, limiting the damage in the top of the first and taking the lead in the bottom half of the inning. They capitalized on a couple of errors by the Hawks and got a hard-hit RBI single from freshman Jayden Sullivan to score three runs and hand Hellum a one-run lead heading into the second inning.
Hermon struck back with a single, then a double, to put runners on second and third with no outs. After freshman Abby Radel made a nice play on a bunt to get the out at first, it seemed like the Eagles might be able to escape with their lead intact. But the next batter up for Hermon, Molly Simcox, smoked a ball into the outfield and drove in both runners with an RBI single.
The rest of the game was filled with individual moments of brilliance in the field and a gutsy complete game from Hellum, her third in a row, to keep the deficit at one. Plays by senior Alicia Havey at second base and junior Alex Bivins in the outfield stand out the most.
But a pitching change for Hermon, replacing Lyndsee Reed with Katie Fowler, confounded Ellsworth’s bats. Fowler’s extremely sudden motion and lightning-quick release led to seven strikeouts for the freshman. Whenever Ellsworth did manage to get a bat on a ball, and the crowd rose with anticipation, it seemed to always find leather instead of grass.
Ellsworth did have one final chance in the bottom of the seventh inning. An error by Fowler put runners on first and third with two outs. Sullivan, who came up big for the Eagles earlier in the game, was at the plate but down in the count. The pitch, however, was strike three. Heartbreak.
In a flash, Hellum was at the plate embracing Sullivan. Soon, the rest of the team would join in. Hermon players and fans celebrated around them, relishing their upset victory. And the Eagles held each other up, the same way they had all season.
So, the next time you see a team that was supposed to win, but didn’t, know that they have a story, too.