Sunday, June 18, 2017

Grafton, Milford and Turners Falls Capture State Softball Titles

Milford celebrates with the Division 1 state championship trophy.
By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

WORCESTER -Now Turners Falls stands alone on its own pedestal.

Arguably the greatest high school softball program in state history, the Indians not only won their third consecutive Division 3 state title on Saturday, but recorded their ninth crown overall, which gives them the most of any program in the Commonwealth, surpassing Bishop Fenwick.

All of this being accomplished in a span of 13 years.

Turners Falls (23-2) did so by edging past Austin Prep 2-1 in the finale held at Rockwood Field in a rematch of last year's final won by the Indians 2-0.

"(Winning nine titles) means that we have had some good luck and some good players," said legendary Turners Falls coach Gary Mullins, completing his 38th season. "There is no question about that. We have had some terrific people who have been part of this program over the years. Players and coaches. All of whom have worked very hard. Believe me, this thing is not easy to win. We've lost our share of them as well. But hats off to the kids here today. I just show up and make out the lineup card. They do the work."

Since 2004, Turners Falls has captured seven Division 3 championships and two Division 2 titles.

With the game tied after three innings, the Indians plated a run in their half of the fourth and never looked back. Relying mightily on the right arm of pitcher Peyton Emery, the junior flourished, allowing just two hits and fanning five.

"When she gets into the circle, she just battles," Mullins said. "I thought she threw extremely well today. You may not be impressed when you see her pitch but she gets results. I also thought we played some solid defense for the most part today, which is what we needed to do against that team."

Outside of the unearned run she surrendered in the third, Emery only ran into serious trouble once more in the sixth.

Retiring the first two batters, Emery walked Kendra Currier. Francesca Frelick followed with a grounder to third which resulted in a throwing error moving both runners into scoring position.

With No. 5 batter Caroline Sablone due up next, Mullins came out to meet with his team and after a brief discussion. Mullins opted to pitch to Sablone instead of intentionally walking her. The strategy worked as Sablone flew out to straightaway centerfield to end the threat.

"I was feeling confident at that point and I just wanted to shut (Sablone) down," Emery said. "I was getting more confident towards the end of the game. It was nerve-wracking at times. Overall, I felt my performance today was good. My defense played great behind me again and I want to thank them for that."

Said Austin Prep coach Frank Sorrenti, "I thought we were going to get it done in that sixth inning, but it didn't go our way today. They are a great team but, coming in, I really thought this was the year for us. During the postseason tournament we took things up to another level. Congratulations to Turners Falls. We have a lot of respect for their program and what they do. But we think we have a pretty good team as well."

Turners Falls, which loses just four seniors, wasted no time jumping on Cougars pitcher Logan MacDonald in the opening frame. Cassidhe Wozniak led off with a single and raced home on senior Gabby Arzuaga's gap double to right-centerfield. MacDonald (6 hits, 8 Ks) worked herself out of further problems in the inning to keep it a one run contest.

In its half of the third, Austin Prep (23-3) got the run back. With two out, Cristina Tighe singled. Lauren Sablone then hit a line shot to left that was mis-played by Maddy Johnson resulting in a two-base error and Tighe sprinting home as the tying run.

But as been its motto for over two decades, Turners Falls remained calm by simply shrugged off the run as no big deal. In the top half of the fourth, the Indians went back on the attack, aided by a Cougar fielding miscue in the process. Eighth-grader Murphy (3 for 3 at the plate) opened by singling to left. After Murphy advanced to second on a ground out, MacDonald fanned Hailey Bogusz. Moments later, the junior right-hander induced Melissa Hersey to hit a pop-up into shallow right field. However, second baseman Isabella Saracco, sliding towards the foul line, let the ball pop in and out of her glove sending Murphy across the plate with the eventual game-winning run.

In the Cougar fifth, they put a runner on second but failed to score as Emery buckled down. One frame later, Austin Prep stood on the threshold of capturing its first state title with the tying and go-ahead runners on base only to see Emery rise up and dash their hopes.

"Peyton throws the ball and I just catch it," Arzuaga said. "She had a good feeling during that at-bat and I just went along with it. It was kind of heart-stopping after she hit the ball to center but Jordan Fiske is a great outfielder and made the catch.  Obviously that was huge moment in this game. At the beginning of the season I don't think a lot of people thought we would make it this far considering what we lost from last year. But we had a lot of younger players come up this year and filled positions amazingly I'm really proud of all of them. This wouldn't have been possible if we didn't have those younger players come in and perform like they did all season."

Milford rallies to clip Wachusett

Once Milford started to sense it, there was not stopping them. After falling behind by three runs early, the Scarlet Hawks showed no signs of panic. The message transcending through their dugout was to relax, remain calm and stick to to the things that got them to the Division 1 state final.

Indeed. Milford stuck to the script perfectly. Scoring a pair of runs in the second and adding two more in the fourth, the Scarlet Hawks would never trail again as they went on to upend Wachusett Regional 7-3 Saturday evening.

With the win, Milford finishes its outstanding season having won its last 25 games to go 25-1. It marks the Scarlet Hawks' first championship since winning back to back crowns in 2012 and 2013.

The Mountaineers (21-4) came into this tilt rather loose and it showed immediately. Singles from Brigid Griffin, Lizzie Miles and Kiana Lloyd, sandwiched around an error resulted in a 3-0 second inning lead against Milford ace pitcher Ali Atherton. The big blow in the frame was Miles' two-run single.

But the Scarlet Hawks clawed back in the bottom of the frame by loading the bases with one out. Lead-off batter Kate Irwin then legged out an infield single to produce Milford's first run. A SAC fly by Emily Piergustavo made it a one-run contest.

In the Scarlet Hawks fourth, they would jump in front for good. A Piergustavo double plated Shannon Cormier, who walked, to knot things at 3-3. Piergustavo, who had three hits, came around to score on Maggie Farrell's bloop single into right.

"This team has a lot of fight and a lot of grit," Milford coach Steve DiVitto said. "Wachusett came out early and threw the first knockout blow. But we responded and that is what championship teams do. In big spots and big moments you respond. I think we learned from our early at-bats against (Wachusett pitcher Liv Strasser). We know what we are capable of doing. We've done it now for 25 straight games."

For all the good the Mountaineers did early, their bats fell silent against Atherton the rest of the way. The senior right-hander gave up just two hits following the second inning. In all, Atherton surrendered six hits with one strikeout.

"I knew my defense would show up today and they did," said Atherton, who is known as a contact pitcher. "In that second inning they were hitting my curve ball because they were crowding the plate. So to start the third, I knew I needed to adjust. I started to throw off the plate and that is where my curve ball became most-effective during the latter innings."

Strasser (12 hits, 2 Ks) did her best to try and slow down Milford's mighty offense. Only trailing by a run, the senior did just that until the Scarlet Hawks' sixth when they put this contest out of reach.

The frame began with singles by Cormier, Kate Irwin and Piergustavo, filling the bases with nobody out. A Farrell SAC fly plated Cormier and Jessica Tomaso (3 hits) then lined a single to score Irwin. Another SAC fly, this time off the bat of Katitlyn DeCapua, had Milford up by four. Atherton proceeded to set Wachusett down in order in top of the seventh thus sparking a joyous celebration for one club and disappointment for the other.

"We just got beat today," Mountaineers coach Joe Cataldo said. "Milford brought their bats today and put the bat on the ball. They also made the plays when we put the bat on the ball. The reality is we got beat by a better team today. Their a great team and it showed."

Grafton breezes to victory

Dracut looked very-much like a team that had not been to a state championship since 1998. The Middies played tight in the early going of their Division 2 state final affair against Grafton Saturday. In the opening inning, there were plenty of nerves to go around as the Indians scored four runs on five hits and a pair of Dracut errors. As a result, that initial uprising would pave the way towards Grafton's 10-1 victory.

Dracut's outstanding sophomore pitcher Ryley White, who recorded over 300 strikeouts this season, was off her game having allowed 10 hits while striking out eight. Once the Indians (20-5) had set the tone early, they never allowed Dracut (21-5) to climb back into it.

Consecutive singles by Jessica Evans, Liz Sudbey, Sarah Remillard and Erin Cardoza around two errors, had Grafton off and running leading 3-0. An RBI single by Rebecca Haggerty pushed the Indians advantage to four.

"I think Dracut was a little bit nervous," said Indians coach John Gemme, who also won state titles in 2012 and 2013. "We put the ball in play and they made a couple of mistakes in which we were able to take advantage of. We played our best game of the year today."

Dracut got a run back in the bottom of the inning as Sabrina Morse scored from third base on a throwing error.

But White, a sophomore, fell into more problems to start the second as she got no help from her defense. Anna Bertrand led off by reaching on another error as the Middies committed five fielding miscues total. After stealing second, and taking third on a ground out, Bertrand raced home on a White wild pitch.

Offensively, the Middies were left stymied at the plate throughout as junior pitcher Savannah Small continued to hold them in check. Fortified by a strong supporting defense, Small surrendered just three hits and struck out four. After scoring in their opening inning, the Middies managed to put just three runners in scoring position the rest of the way.

"My plan was to come out and do what we usually do," Small said. "I was throwing my fastball, change-up and drop mostly today. At times I would throw my riser. Getting a lead like we did early takes the pressure off of me and my fielders. Our defense is absolutely amazing. We would not be the team we are without our defense."

As the game progressed, Grafton continued to stay comfortably ahead, leading by four run going into the seventh. But just for good measure the Indians, held scoreless from the third inning to the sixth, re-discovered their offense in the final frame. After White retired the first two batters, the righty served up a single to Evans and a walk to Sudbey. Remillard followed by ripping a triple to left field. Another White wild pitch brought in Remillard to make it 8-1. But Grafton wasn't done quite yet. Cardoza singled and would later score on a Dracut double error. Caroline King, who reached on an error, scored on Bella Thornton's double into the left-centerfield gap, pushing the lead to nine runs.

"We are usually better then this but that team took it to us today," said Middies coach George Roy. "The nerves got to us early as you could see. That team was very aggressive and they were laying down bunts and putting pressure on our defense. Today we never got that timely hit to give us that spark. The girls came along way this year and Riley had a heck of a season for us and has been a huge part of our team. We get her back for two more years."

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