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Salvo sends Ponaganset softball to the Division II title game

PROVIDENCE — Maia Salvo left an impression in her season debut at the Dayna Bazar Softball Complex.

Salvo took aim at the scoreboard located about 200 feet along the right field wall. The junior turned a pitch to the pull side and left a mark, or probably a dent, before taking her well-deserved tour of Rhode Island College’s base paths on the two-run home run.

Salvo added three more hits to trail three in the cycle as her second-seeded Ponaganset Chieftains raced to a Division II title berth, 10-3, against No. 5 Portsmouth on Sunday.

“We call it the ‘Road to RIC,’” Salvo said of Ponaganset’s season.

“I saw her hit all the time in practice,” Ponaganset coach Michael Calenda said. “And when she hit that, I knew it was gone.”

The Chieftains (15-2) are certainly not afraid of the spotlight. They earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament after Salvo’s walk-off explosion against Westerly at the end of the regular season. Ponaganset led the Bulldogs 9-8 in eight innings on Friday before shutting out Lincoln in the first round of the playoffs.

Over the past three weeks, we have been working towards Ponaganset’s first Division II title position and only its second championship overall. (The Chieftains won the Division III title in 2019).

“We are taking advantage of this opportunity all season long,” Calenda said. “They come out big, in big games. Our schedule was quite finite – we had some tough teams at the end. But I just think it prepared us for the playoffs.”

The Chieftains have five days off before the championship series, which takes place Friday at 7 p.m. Westerly awaits the winner of Johnston-West Warwick in the second round of the one-loss bracket. The winner of the third round (Westerly vs. Johnston/West Warwick) will then play Portsmouth in the one-loss final for a title shot against the Chieftains.

“It feels so good, especially the last two years we’ve been in the Final Four,” starting pitcher Chloe Barber said of reaching the final game. “Last year we made it to the semi-finals and lost, so it’s really good to push, especially because my senior year came out with a bang.”

Related: What a great Saturday of high school championships in RI! Here’s what you need to know

Salvo’s home run gave Ponaganset a 4-1 lead in the third inning and that gap grew to nine when the Chieftains scored six runs in the fourth.

Cecelia Orlando singled to right and Alayna Medina had a hit to start the frame. Ponaganset scored back-to-back runs on a catcher’s error and an RBI ground-out for a 6-1 lead. Barber helped himself back to the pitcher with a bunt as Portsmouth went home with the play in an attempt to get Cora Miller on the squeeze, but the sophomore beat the throw for an RBI on a fielder’s choice.

Salvo added an RBI single and Jillian Baris hit a two-run double for a 10-1 lead. Barber picked up the win after giving up six hits and two earned runs with nine strikeouts against two walks.

“All these girls are amazing,” Salvo said. “I love every single one of them. They’re all so versatile: we can punch and we can hit. It’s so important that the whole line-up can do that.”

Portsmouth entered Sunday’s match having knocked out the tournament’s top seed Johnston 5-0 on Saturday.

Mia Ruggieri picked up a pair of RBI with a single to center. The sophomore also threw 2⅔ scoreless innings in relief.

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On X: @ByJacobRousseau

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