Sunday, June 24, 2018

MIAA Softball: Taunton, Greater New Bedford, Abington Capture Elusive State Titles

By John McGuirk (@Patsfan1313)

Worcester, Mass. -- It wasn't supposed to come this easy and certainly not against an opponent who was perfect coming in. 

But sure enough, Taunton made it look another day at the park with a 13-2 triumph over Wachusett in Saturday night's Division 1 state softball final at Rockwood Field.

The Tigers were dominant from the outset, pouring it on en route to winning their fifth state crown in school history and first since 2007.

Collecting 12 hits and taking advantage of some uncharacteristically poor Mountaineer defense, Taunton (26-2) left little doubt as to who the kingpins of Division 1 softball were in 2018. Leading by four runs after three innings, the Tigers put this one in their back pockets with a five-run fifth inning in-which Wachusett committed three of its overall four errors. 

Those errors allowed Alexa White to deliver the key blow of the game. With the bases loaded, the junior belted a 2-2 fastball over the left field fence for a grand slam. White also made her mark defensively, recording nine putouts from her second base spot.

"I had two strikes on me so I was expecting a middle in pitch and I just took it," said White. "It is the best feeling that I could have ever experienced. It is something I will never forget. I'm just so happy that I could help rally my team up."

Wachusett (24-1) was blindsided by the Tigers' offensive onslaught. Starting pitcher Courtney Lanpher, who came in sporting an 11-0 record and a minuscule 0.71 ERA, was roughed up during her five innings of work allowing six earned runs on 10 hits. Lanpher, who all season long has been most-effective working the inner-half of the plate, was not having success getting those pitches called for strikes.

"We lost part of the plate tonight," Wachusett coach Jason Lanpher said. "It made things a little more difficult but it is what it is. Our season was phenomenal and right up to this game we've had a blast. This was a resilient group and they don't like to lose. Coming in as a first-year coach these girls did everything I asked them to do. I could not be more-prouder with all of them."

The Tigers plated a run in the top of first on a Kya Enos' RBI single that scored Jaime Brown. Two innings later, Taunton added three more runs to put some distance between themselves and the Mountaineers. A pair of walks led to a run-scoring single off the bat of MacKenzie Handrahan. Moments later, freshman Hannah Aldrich lined a two-run base hit to centerfield. 

Over the first three frames, Wachusett, which fell to Milford in last year's title game, could do little against freshman pitcher Kelsey White. The righty was humming along, hitting her spots and keeping the Mountaineers' lethal offense at bay by allowing one hit over that span. White went the distance, giving up six hits, fanning one and walking none. 

In the bottom of the fourth, the Mountaineers finally scratched across a run. With two out, Ellie Moore doubled to left and scored on Reagan Lowe's RBI two bagger  dto make it 4-1. Following Taunton's offensive outburst in the top of the fifth, Wachusett got a run back in the bottom of the frame courtesy of Emily Todorov's solo home run. But the deficit, along with White's pitching, proved to too much for the Mountaineers to overcome. Over the final two innings, Wachusett managed just one hit. 

"Everybody on this team contributed," said Tigers coach Dave Lewey. "I'm just so proud of all of them. I didn't expect this kind of score to be honest with you. I figured there would be some runs scored but I was thinking more like a 6-5 game. It's surprising but we'll take it." 

"Kelsey was amazing for us. She is a freshman that pitches like a senior. She has tremendous composure. What a career she has in front of her and she already has a state championship."

Bears ground Wolverines 

Back in 2014, Greater New Bedford Vocational Tech came away with its first state crown as a Division 3 program. That titled was scrapped due to an MIAA infraction.

Fast forward four years later and GNBVT found itself back in the finals, but this time as a Division 2 entry. The Bears gained some redemption by handing Leicester a 5-1 defeat to win their first championship in school history.

Freshman pitcher Madison Camara, who replaced injured starter Jenna Sylvia prior to last week's state semifinal contest versus North Reading, proved solid against Leicester. Camara scattered four hits, struck out five and issued no walks.

“Madison will never get more experience than what she did these last couple of days," said Bears coach Mark Collins, now in his seventh season. "Leicester is a great team and I'm sure they will be back but today was our day.”

The Bears offense, finishing with five hits, took advantage of three Wolverine fielding miscues and some inconsistent pitching from freshman pitcher Kya Birtz to jump ahead for good. Birtz fanned three, walked one but also hit a pair of batters and tossed a couple of wild pitches. 

An RBI single by Janicemar Rullen gave the Bears a 1-0 lead in the second inning. One frame later, they put this one away.

Alexus Neno led off the third with a double into the right centerfield gap. Averi Soares' ensuing single plated Neno with GNBVT's second run. The inning continued with Soares moving from first to third on a wild pitch. Another wild pitch brought Soares giving the Bears a 3-0 lead.

But the Bears weren't finished as Sarah Duarte reached on a dropped fly ball and Payton Conceicao reached after another error. Shaylen Amaral next came to the plate. After fouling off several pitches, the junior ripped a triple into right, putting GNBVT ahead by four runs.

The Wolverines (19-7), which do not carry a single senior on their roster, tallied for a run in the top of the fourth thanks to Katelyn McKay's double that scored Caitlin Kemmp. But Leicester was unable to get any closer.

"I thought their pitcher did a nice job spotting the ball," Leicester coach Dave Stanick said. "Early in the game we were popping balls us and that's an easy play for teams at this level. We really made it easy for them today. We preach that the only team that is going to beat us is us and we certainly did that today."

In the Bears' half of the sixth, Conceicao walked and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Piper Crooks' then doubled to bring Conceicao home with the fifth run. Camara retired the Wolverines in order in the sixth and seventh frames to seal the triumph. 

"I don't feel you can ever be comfortable in a game like this," said Soares, a senior. "We were all a little nervous coming in. But it wasn't overwhelming and all of us managed to keep our composure. We weren't expecting this and I think that is what make this win more exciting."

Abington hoists first crown

The task at hand was expected to be difficult. Abington, which ran roughshod all throughout the postseason tournament on its way to the Division 3 state final, knew it was in store for a challenge facing defending three-time state champion Turners Falls.

But the Green Wave showed no trepidation. Instead, Abington beat the Thunder at their own game as they claimed a 5-0 win to capture their first state title. 

Abington (24-2) dominated from the get-go as they finished with nine hits.

"I talked to the girls all the time about being aggressive at the plate," said Abington first-year coach Kelsea Cheney. "Our style is to come out and hit, stay aggressive and it has paid off for us. We had strong bats today so I couldn't ask for anything else."

Abington, which lost to Grafton in its only other state final appearance as a Division 2 club back in 2012, jumped on the Thunder (21-4) for three runs over the first two innings and never looked back. 

Lauren Keleher led off the first inning with a triple and later scored on Caitlin Murphy's sacrifice fly. One frame later, walks Molly Glynna and Keleher drew two out walks paving the way for Murphy's triple into the right-centerfield gap for a 3-0 lead.

Turners Falls' bats were silent against Abington senior ace Tori Young. The right-hander stymied the Thunder, allowing just a pair of singles while striking out three. Mostly pitching to contact, Young allowed her flawless defense to handle most of the duties. 

"My team really helped me out today by scoring five runs and making the plays so how can you be nervous when you have a team like that behind you," Young said. "My nerves started to calm down and I just needed to go out there and pitch my game"

Realizing that Turners Falls had the potential to climb back into this one, the Green Wave added some insurance in their half of the fourth by plating two more runs. 

After Tyler set down the first two batters with ease, she walked Keleher, who then stole second. Murphy (2 hits, 4 RBIs) next blooped a single bringing Keleher around.

Over the final three frames, Young retired the Thunder in order en route to the triumph. 

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