Sunday, June 11, 2017

Wachusett Softball Earns First Sectional Title

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

WORCESTER, Mass. - After the final out was recorded, Wachusett Regional jumped, danced and hollered all over the diamond inside Rockwood Field. This celebration serving as a true culmination in which disappointment had finally given way to newfound glory.

The top-seeded Mountaineers claimed their first Division 1 Central Mass. district title by out-lasting No. 2 Doherty 3-1 Saturday evening. This long-awaited victory erased a plethora of bad memories of season's gone bye in which Wachusett, a team always stockpiled with plenty of talent, could never quite get over the hump within its own bracket.

But behind a solid pitching effort from senior Liv Strasser, the Mountaineers (20-3) can officially throw that stigma in the dumpster. Wachusett will now move on to the state semifinal where they it face Western Mass. champ Minnechaug (23-0) on Tuesday at UMass-Amherst beginning at 5 p.m. The Falcons disposed of Pittsfield 4-0 in their district final played Saturday.

"It is all about these girls," said a relieved Wachusett coach Joe Cataldo. "They've worked their butts off to get to this point. I've never had a group that has worked this hard. They are all just an amazing bunch of kids. Even when we were behind the girls stayed calm. They knew they have the bats to get it done and they did."

Strasser was the dominant force for Wachusett. The right-hander allowed just three hits while striking out six. After an auspicious start, in which the Mountaineers committed a pair of first inning errors that led to the Highlanders lone run, Strasser remained in control the rest of the way.

"I did not want to make this game my last one," Strasser said. "I was so determined to come here and win this game today. It just feels great to be out here and win this finally."

Wachusett shrugged off woes from the initial frame by scoring a pair of runs in the bottom half of the inning. Doherty pitcher Payton Sylvester plunked lead off batter Jordin Laraia and followed that up by walking Cammi Sperling. Strasser next reached on a fielding error. 

Showing no signs of slowing down on the play, Laraia raced around third base and beat the throw home to knot things at 1-1. Moments later, Courtney Lanper laid down a squeeze bunt back to Sylvester. 

With Sperling sprinting home, Sylvester's throw to the plate beat the senior, however, during her slide, Sperling was able to jar the ball out of catcher Emma Brennan's glove to make it 2-1.
Once on top, the Mountaineers were determined to keep it that way. Over the next six frames, Strasser allowed just one hit as Doherty was unable to move a runner beyond first base. With Strasser mixing her pitches well, and hitting her spots, the defending Central Mass. champion Highlanders were rendered helpless.

"She was really on today," said Cataldo of Strasser. "She was hitting all of her spots. She seemed to live on the inside corner much of the game and they couldn't get their bats on it. She probably threw the hardest I think that I have ever seen her throw."

Sylvester, who has performed admirably in a Highlander uniform throughout her career, did her best to help keep Doherty within striking distance. The senior surrendered just three hits and fanned four. The righty was victimized by a pair of Highlander errors which led to her downfall.

That proved evident in the Mountaineers third. Sperling (2 hits) led off with a single and was sacrificed to second. After a second out was recorded, Sperling took off for third. Brennan quickly threw to the base but nobody was in position to cover. As the ball rolled into left field, Sperling trotted home with Wachusett's third run.

From that point moving forward, this contest belonged to Strasser as she continued to stymie the Highlanders at every turn en route to the victory.

The Highlanders jumped on top after two were out in the first. Sylvester singled and took second on an error. Samantha Baldino next hit a chopper to the right side that was fielded by Strasser. However her throw to first was off the mark allowing Sylvester to score easily. 

"We've only scored three runs against her in three games this season," said Doherty coach Phil Spellane, whose club split with the Mountaineers during the regular season. "She is such a great pitcher. We go ahead early and then they come right back. I thought both pitchers seemed to settle down after that. I cannot say enough about Payton and what she has meant to our program. She put us on the map. There were a lot of people who thought the city schools were dead here. She brought Doherty softball back and I'll always be grateful for that." 

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