Wednesday, June 13, 2018

MIAA Softball: Pittsfield, Northampton Advance in Semifinals, Set up Sectional Final Matchup

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

Amherst, Mass. -- Pittsfield has been down this road before. A few times in fact. So when the Generals arrived at UMass' Sortino Field Tuesday evening, there was no shock or awe anywhere to be found.

A veteran club, Pittsfield has performed on this stage in the past. The past two years, the Generals have reached the Division 1 Western Mass. title game only to be denied. Following a 6-0 win over West Springfield in the semifinal round, Pittsfield will get another shot at redeeming themselves.

Top-seed Pittsfield (21-0) will face No. 3 Northampton here on Saturday, beginning at 11 a.m. for the right to advance to the state semifinals. The Blue Devils (19-3) slipped past No. 2 Minnechaug 2-1 in the day's other semifinal.

Scoreless through three innings, Pittsfield got to Terriers freshman pitcher Crystal Madore in the fourth courtesy of a two out RBI single by Tess Lyon.

"We hadn't seen (Madore) before so we didn't know what she was going to throw at us," said Lyon, a sophomore. "It took us a little while but we finally made our adjustments at the plate. We are a team that is focused on one thing at a time. We forget about the last game and move on to the next one. We'll forget about this one and now get ready for our next game on Saturday."

Taking the lead lit a fire under Pittsfield. One frame later, with two out, Hayley Tobin kept the inning alive by driving a single into centerfield before advancing to second on an error. A hit-by-pitch and a  fielder's choice loaded the bases. Madison Tobin followed with a ground ball in the hole between shortstop and third base. West Side shortstop Haley Dover fielded it, but in her haste to get the force out at second, threw the ball into left field allowing two more runs to cross home for a 3-0 lead.

"(Madore) was doing some stuff with the ball that I don't think we have seen," Generals coach Greg Marchbanks said. "It took us a little bit to figure what we needed to do. We started to get on top of the ball instead of popping it up. Overall, the girls played very well both offensively and defensively."

While all of this was taking place, Generals pitcher Guiliana Pierce continued to hold the Terriers offense in check. The senior allowed just four hits with one strikeout. Pittsfield's defense played brilliantly behind her, making play after play and refusing to allow West Side (12-10) to gain any momentum. Only twice did the Terriers, have a runner reach second base. 

"Pittsfield is a very good team," said West Side veteran coach Deke Pillsbury, finishing up his 43rd year at the helm. "A lot of their games this season have been blowouts so I was proud that our girls stayed relatively close with them. All year long our girls have been very hard-working and have played gritty. Today was no different."

Leading 3-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, the Generals added some insurance. Pittsfield pounced on Madore for three insurance runs to put this one away for good. Lyon led off with a single and Szophia Lewis reached on an error placing runners at the corners. A pair of bunt singles by Britney Perkett and Natasha Shade (3 hits) resulted in a pair of runs. Hayley Tobin's deep sacrifice fly put Pittsfield on top by six. The Generals finished with 10 hits. Sarah McMahon also notched a pair of singles to aid Pittsfield's cause.

"With us it is all about consistency," Marchbanks said. "With this team it is sort of a routine for them to be here and they have made it part of their repertoire."

Blue Devils prevail

Having split its two regular season meetings against Valley Wheel League rival Minnechaug, Northampton knew it had the talent and attitude to snatch the rubber game.

The second-seeded Falcons (17-3) have much of their lineup back after claiming last year's Western Mass. championship. Yet, as the game progressed, there was a collective belief inside the Northampton dugout that it could hang with the mighty Falcons. The Blue Devils were right.

Northampton plated a pair of runs in the fourth inning and managed to fend off a late Minnechaug surge to come away with a 2-1 win on Tuesday afternoon. As been the case all season, the Blue Devils defense played rock-solid, most-notably sophomore third baseman Jillian McGrath, who recorded six putouts. Alana Kerwood stayed around the plate for much of this contest, often inducing Minnechaug to swing at her rise ball that resulted in a number of harmless fly outs. Kerwood gave up just four hits and struck out one.

"I tried to focus on both sides of the plate," said Kerwood. "Minnechaug has excellent hitters so today our strategy was to try and change up a few things from what we normally do because they've been so successful against us in the past. One of our strengths is to keep a level head and I think we showed that today against them." 

The decisive inning began with Emilia Pelis smacking a single up the middle. After one out, Anna Connly drove a Rachel Crafts' fastball to deep right field for an RBI triple. Moments later, Marrissa Badorini lifted a pop up in the infield that fell making it 2-0 Northampton.

"Their pitcher was good and moved the ball around the strike zone well," Falcons coach Rob Baroni said. "We made too many mistakes offensively and defensively to win against a good team like them. You can't make three fielding errors and 100 errors in the batter's box and expect to win. It's disappointing in the way we played and it was certainly not to our capabilities."

Crafts, who has had a brilliant career inside the circle for the Falcons, came into this tilt touting a 13-1 mark. But the right-hander had her share of difficulty trying to repress the Blue Devils. Crafts issued four hits and fanned five.

Held hitless over the first four innings before picking one up in the fifth, Minnechaug finally got something started in its half of the sixth. Crafts led off with a double and moved to third on a passed ball. Jessica Anderson's one out grounder brought Crafts in to make it a one run game. Back-to-back singles by Melanis Ward and Sarah Rossi ensued putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base. 

But Kerwood never flinched. Instead, the righty remained focus by inducing Kelsey Allard to pop out and keep the lead in tact. Kerwood followed it up by setting down Minnechaug in order in the seventh to chalk her 18th win of the season. 

"What a job Anna did today," praised Blue Devils coach Andy Pelis. "She was in charge of her spots the whole game. She is not someone that is going to overpower you. She depends on her location and change of speeds and did a great job in doing both. All year this team has stayed focused and don't seem to get rattled."

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