Belmont Softball Is Back! Marauders Down Wilmington, 3-2, To Up Record To 6-4

Photo: Belmont High School senior pitcher Ellie Espelin in action against Wilmington

During a recent softball game, an opponent asked Josie Kim a question as Belmont’s outstanding junior catcher stood on second base during a Marauders rally.

“When did you guys get so good?” quire the player.

Many people have been asking that same question this season since Belmont has been wandering in the wilderness for the past 15 years, bereft of a winning record and coming off a lonely two-win season last year.

But with the team playing at its brand-new ballpark and with the right mix of veterans and newcomers, this season’s Marauder team is no longer an automatic “W” on other teams’ schedules as it has been in the past decade.

“We have no star players, but we work as a team. We are underrated because we were so bad for such a long time,” said Kim,

On Friday, April 26, all the elements of the new era came together as the Marauders produced a program-defining victory, holding off perennial Middlesex Freedom leaders Wilmington, 3-2, at Clay Pit Pond Park (the “Pond”). The victory over the Wildcats moves the Marauders to 6-4 midway through the season.

The last time Belmont processed a winning record and earned a playoff spot was in 2008 when the 11-9 Marauders was anchored by strikeout artist Kayla Hoyer (’09), who led all eastern Mass pitchers with 232 Ks.

Belmont High’s second base Eva Grant at bat vs Wilmington.

The program’s sudden turn of fortune comes from players who participate in club softball and a group of outstanding athletes with some past experience in the sport. While the Marauders have taken a huge step towards becoming a competitive squad, growing pains remain, especially against the established teams in the Middlesex League. Case in point: a recent three-game stretch, including against Lexington (18-4) and Arlington (10-0), in which Belmont was over and out-matched.

But Friday – played before dozens of parents and fans filling the backstop stands and some created their own bleachers in left field – showed the potential for finishing the season with a record above .500, and an automatic invite to the state tournament is very real. In Friday’s game, as many balls ended up in the Pond as there were total hits; the team won with its brand of timely hitting – 11 hits, including four doubles – and outstanding defense, highlighted by a pair of double plays, each ending with Kim tagging out a Wildcat at the plate.

“It was pretty much just the throw. I just sat there and caught it. And then all I had to do was go backward with the tags,” said Kim.

Kim’s battery mate, senior ace Ellie Espelin, put her stamp on the game against the Wildcats’ first-year pitcher Izzy Maiella. Belmont’s most experienced hurler picked up seven strikeouts (on nine hits and four walks), many of which got her out of jams. On Friday, the heat worked best for Espelin.

Belmont’s battery: Catcher Josie Kim and Pitcher Ellie Espelin

“I was doing fastball [and curve] and then the change-up, but the fastball was the best pitch today,” said Espelin, with Kim nodding in approval. Taking the measure of Wilmington runs in the family, as Espelin is the sister of Belmont High baseball all-star Nate Espelin, who struck out a school record 19 batters in a 1-0 complete-game shutout over the Wildcats in 2018.

“It was a long week, and I was happy that I hit my spots most of the time,” said Espelin.

Belmont got on the scoreboard first after a one-out double by first-year first base Elsie Lakin-Shultz (2 hits), who advanced to third on an Espelin single (who helped her own cause with three hits, including a double) and scored on a fielder’s choice RBI via left fielder Mia Ferrari. Wilmington rallied in the fourth to tie the game on a walk, a single, a sacrifice, and a groundout. But the Wildcat on third was stranded as Espelin struck out the next batter looking.

Belmont would jump back into the lead in the fifth, with centerfielder Amelia Ormond scoring all the way from first on a Tessa Burroso single to center. The shortstop would cross home on the next pitch when Kim (2 hits) drilled a double to the fence in left to increase the lead to 3-1. The Wildcats would push home a run in the sixth on three infield singles.

The Wildcats would not go quietly as Wilmington’s Ali McElligott launched her second triple of the game with two outs. But Espelin would shut the door by getting Eva Boudreau to swing at a 3-0 count and ground weakly for the easy 1 to 3.

While this is Espelin’s final season, Belmont has a young pitcher waiting in the wings in Olivia Ormond, who threw a four-hit shutout in her first varsity start and helped her own cause by slugging an in-the-park home run to lead the Marauders to a 16-0 victory over Cambridge Rindge and Latin on April 23.

Belmont’s Head Coach Joe Tuzzolo said, “I am impressed with the girls today. They battled the entire way. It was a tight game, and we haven’t been in that many tight games. They showed a lot of composure. We jumped to a lead and saw it disappear because Wilmington is a really good team. But our kids made the plays when it counted.”

“Since the middle of March, when we started, the kids have made great strides, and it showed today,” said Tuzzolo, who also appealed to the Belmont community.

“With the warmer weather, we’d love to see even more fans come to see us play.”

In the bleachers