WRENTHAM, Mass. – Entering Monday night’s marquee matchup between two of the best teams in all of Massachusetts, Taunton had already clinched at least a share of the Kelley-Rex division title.
King Philip wanted its share of the throne, too.
KP senior Sarah Cullen smacked an opposite field line drive to left that found its way to the fence and junior Taylor Regan hustled all the way from first to cross home plate in the bottom of the 10th inning, handing the Warriors a 1-0 walk-off win over the Tigers and a share of the league crown.
“Sometimes you just hit a ball, and you just know,” Cullen said. “It could have been anyone on this team though, everyone works so hard. I just happened to be the lucky one to get it done.
“We have all worked so hard for this but we really had to focus on keeping our nerves at a minimum. They are a great team as well. We knew we could do this but we had to carry a lot of energy and confidence into this one.”
The battle between two of the best squads in the state delivered as the game remained scoreless through seven innings, as well as the first two extra innings.
“You couldn’t ask for a better one, it was such a great game,” said King Philip head coach Kate Fallon-Comeau. “We really focus on one at-bat at a time but they were really excited coming off the field each inning, but they were able to really settle in and take it one at-bat at a time in that last inning.
“We knew if we won we’d get a share of the title but it wasn’t the first thing they were focused on. They come into every game and want to win, that’s the mentality they have every time out.”
KP freshman McCoy Walsh escape an early first inning jam and went on to toss one of the best games of her young career, allowing just two hits and three walks, striking out a career-high 17 in 10 scoreless innings of work.
Taunton junior Sam Lincoln was equally impressive, scattering five hits and no walks with 16 strikeouts and no earned runs allowed. Lincoln worked her way out of a couple of jams, including in the 8th inning when she stranded a runner at third after a two-out triple,
“We never want to lose a game but if there’s such thing as a good loss, this is it,” said Taunton head coach Michelle Raposo. “This is a good mental reset for us before the tournament. They wanted it a little more than we did tonight. We didn’t produce offensively through the lineup so we have some things we need to work on but it will prepare us for the postseason.”
The Tigers’ best chance was in the top of the first inning when Kyleah Plumb and Bella Bourque earned back-to-back walks to start the game and Kaysie DeMoura legged out an infield hit on a bunt to load the bases with no outs.
Regan came up with a massive diving catch at first on a bunt attempt for the first out, Walsh induced a grounder back to the circle and got the force out at home, and then picked up her first strikeout to escape unscathed.
“She started off the game with the bases loaded but she just battles, and she battled the entire way,” Fallon-Comeau said. “She has the whole team supporting her. Once she got that strikeout in the first to get out of that jam, I think she settled in and that really propelled her the rest of the game.”
KP’s first threat came in the third when Regan singled to center and took second on a sac bunt from Ava Lanza. Cullen’s first hit of the day put runners on the corners but Lincoln got back-to-back strikeouts to end the frame.
Freshman Ali Gill had a one-out single in the sixth and moved to second when senior Libby Walsh was hit by a pitch but once again Lincoln buckled down, getting a grounder to third for the force and another strikeout to finish the inning.
“We’ve been in that situation a couple of times but they buckle down and can get out of it,” Raposo said. “Whether it’s Sam’s pitching or the relying on our defense…they don’t get nervous and they are very confident defensively. We didn’t have Ava [Venturelli] tonight but our other kids should be able to produce and we just couldn’t string something together.”
“This was two good pitchers going at. Sam pitched a hell of a game and her defense was great. If there was any little error or a mistake, either team is capable to capitalize but there really wasn’t any of that.”
Both teams went quietly in the seventh, sending the game to extras. Taunton’s second hit came on a one-out single from Mia Torres but Walsh responded with consecutive strikeouts to squander the threat.
Gill nearly won the game in the bottom of the 9th when she drilled a shot to right but it hit high off the fence for a triple. Before KP could capitalize, Lincoln got a swinging strikeout to keep the game going.
DeMoura got a hold of one to start the 9th inning with a good hit to center but Cullen tracked back and made a leaping catch at the fence for the out, denying at least a double, potentially more.
“Sarah was like an overdue library book, she was due, she was ready,” Fallon-Comeau said. “She had that great catch in the top of the ninth and I felt really good about her next at-bat. She came back from the tough at-bat before and just ripped that one down the line.”
In the bottom of the 10th, Regan reached after an infield error. Cullen, who had struck out on a check swing in the 8th, laced the first pitch she saw to left for the winning hit.
“Something I really love about this team is that everyone picks each other up really quick,” Cullen said. “After that at-bat [in the 8th], they all picked me up and kept telling me I would get it the next time. When I went up there, I was just ready and had a good feeling about the first strike I saw.”
King Philip softball (15-1 Hockomock, 20-1 overall) finishes the regular season on Saturday with a date against Bridgewater-Raynham on Saturday at 1:00. Taunton (15-1, 18-1) hosts Bishop Feehan on Wednesday at 6:30.