Friday, May 4, 2018

Christina Clark Rises to the Challenge as Burlington Takes Down Lexington

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

Burlington, Mass. – Over this past off-season, Christina Clark spent countless hours alongside her high school coach Kristen Farrell working on a rising fastball in an effort to become one of the state's elite hurlers. Already equipped with a spot-on fastball and change-up, the Burlington junior was not going to be satisfied until she developed a third pitch.

On Friday, Clark relied heavily on her riser to make Middlesex League foe Lexington bewildered at times inside the batter's box. Clark used that intangible to her advantage as the hard-throwing right-hander scattered six hits, walked three and struck out 16 in leading Burlington to a 7-3 victory over the Minutemen at Marvin Field.

Clark was locked in from the outset, consistently challenging the Minutemen lineup. A couple of times she ran into jams yet managed to pitch her way out of them with limited damage.

"My mindset today, even if some calls didn't go my way, was to keep a level head and just try to get the next out," said Clark. "I needed to keep my confidence up out there. How (Lexington) was standing in the box allowed me to adjust to them. I was trying to make my riser jump a little and make them go after it. I worked a lot on that pitch over this past winter and feel very comfortable with it now."

Even after Lexington (6-4) grabbed a 2-1 lead, Clark never once showed signs of panic.
Showing patience at the plate, Burlington (8-1) waited out Minutemen starter Grace Orcutt, who had some trouble locating her pitches on this warm afternoon. The Red Devils finally jumped on Orcutt (7 hits, 4 Ks, 6 walks) for six runs in their half of the fourth to put this one away.

Carrying just four seniors, it is scary to think how good this Burlington club may be over the next couple of seasons. Most-certainly they are legitimate contenders right now of making a deep postseason run.

Through the first three frames Orcutt survived a shaky first inning coming unscathed after loading the bases. But in the second, the Red Devils struck for a run. With one out, Clark ripped a double to left. Following a Jordan Ferullo sacrifice bunt, senior Meghan Gaffney laid down a well-executed bunt single to bring home the game’s first run.

Lexington got to Clark in the top of the third, scoring a pair of runs. The Minutemen loaded the bases with two out before Maggie Murphy blooped a two run single to center for a 2-1 advantage. Regaining her control, Orcutt set down the Red Devils in the third with little difficulty. But her fortunes changed dramatically the following inning.

With one out in the fourth, Ferullo singled, Erin Browne walked and Gaffney reached on a bunt single to fill the bases. Orcutt then plunked Chloe McGonagle to force in a run making it 2-2. The inning continued with Kat Nikolopoulos hitting a soft grounder to third that resulted in an E5.

Things worsened for Lexington moments later after sophomore Fran Rubino's lifted a two-run single into right, putting the Red Devils up 5-2. Later in the inning, Sydney Shinopulos wasted no time jumping on Orcutt's first pitch and sending a single into the right-centerfield gap to bring home two more runs to extend the Red Devils' lead to 7-2.

"We are a team that has done a lot of work in the cages," Clark said. "I think that it shows now that we are a strong hitting team up and down the lineup."

Meanwhile, Clark continued to do a superb job at working both sides of the plate before turning to her riser to complete the job. The Minutemen tried to mount a rally in the top of the sixth. Dimmock opened by lining a single to left and Janna Lee walked. Clark fanned Elizabeth Stump and Taylor Benson in succession. 

But a full-count walk to Jenny Lewitzky juiced the bases. A ground ball off the bat of Caroline Palys appeared as though Clark would get out of the inning clean. However it turned into an error that pulled Lexington within 7-3. 

With Lexington doing everything in its power to will itself back into this one, and make Clark work, the Red Devils ace defused the threat by retiring Murphy on a called third strike.

"Christina has matured so much for us," said Farrell, a top-level pitcher in her own right at UMass-Lowell. "Even though she had a great year last year, I don't think she ever felt that she was a great pitcher. This year she has the confidence to become one. She hits her spots and mixes her pitches nicely. I'm really looking forward to what she can do down the road.”

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