WINSLOW — Despite jumping out of the starting gate and building an early lead, the Winslow softball team found itself nibbling its collective fingernails as the game progressed into the late innings Thursday afternon at LaVerdiere Field.

That nervousness in the dugout peaked with a pop fly that Black Raiders catcher Kiana Richards caught and subsided entirely when Bailey Robbins homered to lead off the home half of the inning, leading No. 3 Winslow to a 5-3 win over No. 6 Ellsworth in the Class B North quarterfinals.

Winslow (16-1) advances to play Medomak Valley in the regional semifinals on Saturday.

“We fight as a team. We fight for everything, and we have faith in each other and don’t ever give up,” Richards said. “This feels really good. I’m a senior this year, and I’m looking forward to going all the way.”

The Black Raiders grabbed the early lead with two runs in the first inning and two more in the second, capitalizing on the chances in the first and pouncing on a pair of Ellsworth errors in the second. Third baseman Paige Veilleux doubled in the game’s first run, followed by Robbins’ RBI single to build a 2-0 lead.

The Black Raiders doubled the advantage in the second, utilizing a walk, a hit batter and a two-run single from Richards.

“We had a plan,” Winslow coach Steve Bodge said. “The key is getting ahead (in playoff games), and playing from there. Play smart and don’t make silly mistakes… That’s the key — teams sometimes multiply their mistakes, and we try not to do that.”

The game stayed that way until the sixth inning, when the Eagles (12-6) began to stir. A one-out bunt single from leadoff hitter Leah Stevens was followed by a fielder’s choice and an error to put runners in motion before a run-scoring single from Callie Hammer. That cut the Winslow lead to 4-1, with runners at second and third and two outs.

Enter Richards, who made the defensive play of the game.

Breann Cummings fouled an 0-1 pitch straight up and to the right side of home plate, right up against the backstop fencing. Richards spun and couldn’t locate the ball immediately, suddenly lurching her mitt into the air and clutching the ball to end the Ellsworth rally then and there.

“I really didn’t know (where it was),” Richards said of her grab. “We needed it. I think the game would have gone different.

“Usually I follow the ball when it goes up, but they’re all just yelling, ‘It’s there!’ I turned and it was there. I was scared. I was biting nails there.”

Robbins, a sophomore designated player in the lineup for her bat, stepped up to lead off the bottom of the sixth and drilled a 2-2 pitch over the fence in left for her first career home run and a 5-1 Winslow lead.

“The pitch was a little bit high, but I was ready for it,” Robbins said. “I felt it coming. I think it brought us up as a team.”

A leadoff walk in the seventh for Ellsworth was followed by a two-run blast from left fielder Abby Lynch made it a 5-3 game, but Winslow pitcher Hillary Libby retired the next three in order to end the Ellsworth hopes.

Libby allowed just four hits over seven innings of work, striking out eight and walking only the one.

“We were all ready to play,” Robbins said. “We were pumped up. We’re excited to play all the time.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC