HAVERHILL — Whittier Tech and standout pitcher Nicole Verrette more than showed that they were up for the challenge Monday afternoon.
Facing highly acclaimed Dracut ace Rylie White from the mighty Merrimack Valley Conference, Verrette outpitched White and the Wildcats won a Division 2 North quarterfinal thriller, 3-2 in nine innings.
Whittier, now 18-3 as the No. 3 seed, advances to Wednesday’s 3:30 p.m. semifinals at Martin Field in Lowell against No. 2 seed Gloucester (18-3).
After the game, Verrette claimed it was “just another game” for her, but her performance belied that sentiment. She struck out 12 while allowing just four hits. And both runs against her were unearned.
White, meanwhile, was fairly effective with 11 strikeouts, but she had trouble with the middle of Whittier’s batting order and she surrendered 10 hits overall.
“I thought Nicole was magnificent and she did outpitch her (White),” said Whittier coach Cheryl Begin.
There were plenty of heroes in this one for the Wildcats but, offensively, Alicia Habib, Alyssa Michel and Verrette all had two hits and stood out.
Trailing 1-0 in the fourth, Whittier tied it when Habib led off with a single and, two outs later, Verrette doubled her home. The Wildcats then took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the sixth when Habib doubled with one out, stole third with two outs and then scored on a single by KJ Campbell.
But an unfortunate mental error led to Dracut tying the score in the top of the seventh and ultimately sent the game into extra innings.
Whittier put two runners on base in the bottom of the seventh and eighth but White got inning-ending strikeouts in both frames .However, the Wildcats’ third chance to win it, in the ninth, proved to be the charm.
Freshman Jaclyn Bailey led off with an infield hit and went to second on a throwing error on the play. She went to third on a fielder’s choice bunt by freshman Devin Bailey in which all runners were safe. With two outs, Habib — who already had two hits and had been on base three times — was intentionally walked to load the bases.
That brought Michel up to the plate, who had singled, lined hard to center field and had two sacrifice bunts.
“I was very nervous,” admitted Michel. “I basically just wanted to hit the ball and do my job.”
Michel did just that, smashing a grounder up the middle to score Bioren from third with the winning run.
“I’m just so proud of the kids, the way they never gave up and kept battling,” said Begin. “This was a great team win.”
Indeed, six different Wildcats had hits off the hard-throwing White and Whittier also benefited from some fine defensive plays including two deep catches by freshman Jennell Gonzalez in left field and a heads-up play by Habib at shortstop to nail a runner at third base in the top of the ninth.
Habib, who was on base four times, admitted that she was a little uncertain facing White at the start, but adjusted quickly and felt that a tough 3-2 loss to MVC champ Lowell earlier in the season provided the team with a boost.
“That game definitely helped us,” said Habib. “We grew from that game. We knew what we had to do after that.”
Whittier 3, Dracut 2, 9 innings
Div. 2 North Quarterfinals
Dracut (2): Saari cf 4-0-1, Keefe 3b 4-0-0, S.Morse c 4-1-0, White p 2-0-1, Pickard pr 0-0-0, Gomez 2b 4-0-0, K.Morse rf 3-1-1, Brule 1b 2-0-1, O’Connell lf 3-0-0. Totals 26-2-4
Whittier (3): Greaney 2b 5-0-0, Habib ss 3-2-2, Michel 3b 3-0-2, Campbell 1b 4-0-1, Verrette p 4-0-2, Lear c 4-0-0, Bioren dp 4-1-2, Cronin pr 0-0-0, Gonzalez lf 4-0-1, Bailey rf 3-0-0, McGrath cf 0-0-0. Totals 34-3-10
RBI: W — Verrette, Campbell, Michel
WP: Verrette; LP: White
Dracut (16-6): 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 — 2
Whittier (18-3): 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 — 3