Tigers End Long Wait, Bring Home State Championship

Taunton softball
Taunton junior Alexa White (right) is greeted at home by teammates after hitting a grand slam. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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WORCESTER, Mass. – In the bottom of the fourth inning, Wachusett started to hit the ball hard, scoring a run on back-to-back doubles and cutting into the Taunton lead. Although the Tigers still led by three runs, momentum appeared to be shifting to the Central champs and Taunton went to the plate looking for an instant response to take back control.

With one run home, the Tigers had the bases loaded with two outs and up stepped junior Alexa White. Wachusett starter Courtney Lanpher got two strikes on Taunton’s second baseman, but then White turned on a pitch, lifting it to deep left. The Taunton bench was almost holding its breath watching the ball sail towards the fence and almost exploded when the ball cleared it.

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White’s grand slam broke Saturday night’s Div. 1 state championship game wide open, lifting Taunton (26-2) to a convincing 13-2 win over the Mountaineers and ending an 11-year wait for the program’s fifth state title.

“It’s almost surreal,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry, who earned his fourth title as coach of the Tigers. “I began to question whether I was ever going to get another one, you know? It just hasn’t sunk in yet, but these kids deserve it. The whole team just worked so hard for it.

“I’m just so proud of them all. They’ve had a great, great season.”

Throughout the playoffs, as a team, the Tigers have talked about trying to win this title for the senior class, which before this year had gotten as far as the South sectional final four years ago. On Saturday, they fulfilled that mission.

“They worked so hard all these years and for us to finally have a chance for it, we really wanted them to have it,” said freshman Hanna Aldrich.

The Tigers jumped in front in the first. Junior Jaime Brown (2-for-3) lined a single to center, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Liana Duarte (3-for-4), and then scored on a single by Kya Enos (2-for-4). All three played on the Taunton team that reached the South final in 2015.

In the third, Taunton got some breathing room. Brown drew a one-out walk and stole second. With two outs, Enos drew a walk and Mackenzie Handrahan knocked a single through the left side of the infield. Brown was able to slide in ahead of the tag. Aldrich (2-for-4) followed with a single of her own, which scored Enos and Handrahan for a 4-0 lead.

Wachusett got its first base runner off Kelsey White with two outs in the fourth. Ellie Moore doubled to left center and then Reagan Lowe bounced one off the fence in center to drive her in. Paige Arvidson smashed a line drive right back at White, who snared it to end the inning.

The energy was suddenly much higher from the Wachusett fans and the Mountaineers looked rejuvenated. That lasted only a few hitters.

Duarte started the rally with a one-out single. Enos reached on an error and Handrahan on a fielder’s choice after another error trying to get the lead runner. Aldrich drove in her third run of the game with a bouncer over the pitcher that left the shortstop in no man’s land.

“We kept talking about that,” said Lewry about Taunton trying to stem any momentum from Wachusett. “They made it 4-1 and I said let’s get that four-run lead back and they came right back and got it for me. You just like to keep putting the pressure on.”

After Lanpher got Kelsey White to pop up to the catcher for the second out, the Mountaineers looked like they may just escape the inning having only allowed a single run, but Alexa White stepped in to give her sister, and the team, a lift. The grand slam made it 9-1 and had the Tigers cruising.

“I already had two strikes on me,” Alexa White said, “and I was just expecting the middle pitch and I took it and it was the best feeling I’ve ever experienced. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m so happy I could rally the team up one last time.”

Emily Todorov started the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot to left, but then Alexa White flashed the leather at second to record the next three outs. Twice she made plays to her left, cutting down grounders in the hole between first and second and then, after a Wachusett single, she tracked one down up the middle and had the presence of mind to tag the base for the force.

“My adrenaline was up and I was like, ‘I’ve got to go every which way to get this ball,’ said White about her play in the field. She moved from the outfield to second base after an injury to starter McKenzie McAloon right before the tournament and it was an adjustment at first. She explained, “Obviously, it was a big surprise to put me there because of an unfortunate injury but I knew I had to step up there and help out the infield.”

Any hope that Wachusett had of a comeback was dashed in the sixth. Taunton continued to stretch the lead and the top of the order continued to come through with big hits. Brown started it with a double to center and Duarte followed by lining a double over the left fielder’s head. She would come around to score again on an Enos single to left and it was 11-2.

In the seventh, Taunton brought players off the bench to give them a taste of the final and extended the lead further.

Freshman Tayah DaCosta, who was pulled up from JV for the postseason, lined a single in her first at-bat of the playoffs. Abbie McDonough, who played right field, followed with a double to put two in scoring position. Hailee Hartung drove in one with a groundout to second and Duarte beat out an infield single to drive in another.

With a strong defense behind her, Kelsey White closed out the game with a clean seventh inning. The freshman allowed only five hits from the Mountaineers and continued a strong tournament run that saw her allow no more than two runs in any of Taunton’s six playoff games.

“She’s really composed,” said Enos about White. “You’ll never see her upset, she’s always within herself. I’m so proud of her. She’s pitched every game of the tournament by herself. It’s emotionally, physically, and mentally tiring and she did it.”

Lewry added, “She’s been amazing all year. She’s a freshman but she pitches like a senior. What a career she’s got in front of her still and she’s already got a state championship.”

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With two outs, the ball was hit on the ground to Brown at third and she, as she has done countless times before, fired a strike to first base. Unlike all those other times, this one was for a state championship and to complete a mission that the Tigers had set out on at the start of the season.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Aldrich gushed. “Nothing has ever felt like this before.”

“I’m surprised I’m not crying because I’m so happy,” Alexa White said. “I’m just in shock because this is so incredible and I’m so happy for the seniors and…there are no words, literally no words.

Taunton Seniors Cap Career With State Title

Kya Enos
Taunton coach Dave Lewry and his three seniors Kya Enos, Liana Duarte, and Mackenzie Handrahan. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
ByRyanLanigan_2016FollowRyanLanigan_2016
 
 
WORCESTER, Mass. – Quiet, inspirational, and crazy — the perfect combination.

That’s how Taunton head coach Dave Lewry described each of his three senior leaders — Liana Duarte, Kya Enos, and Mackenzie Handrahan.

All three of those Tigers played a vital role this season, and unsurprisingly, were a big part of Taunton winning the D1 State Championship with a 13-2 decision over previously unbeaten Wachusett.

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“They are the nucleus of the team,” Lewry said. “What a great combination of seniors. I never had to use the word ‘senioritis’ this season. Usually, we have to talk about it with them being out of school at the end of the season. But we never had to mention it all year and that’s a tremendous credit to those three.

“These kids deserve it. I’m so happy for Kya, Liana, and Mack.”

The three seniors weren’t just strong leaders off the field, they led by example on the diamond as well. Each Duarte (3-for-4), Enos (2-for-4), and Handrahan recorded a hit, drove in at least one run, and scored at least once in the Tigers’ big win.

“Honestly, this team, there is something special about it,” said Enos, who has spent five years on the squad after making the roster in eighth grade. “We’ve worked hard and we’ve just never had chemistry like this. I’m close with every single one of these girls and I believe in every single one of them. I’m exceptionally proud of every one of them.”

It didn’t take long for Taunton to take a lead with Enos responsible for giving the visitors a lead in the first inning. After a leadoff single from Jaime Brown, the junior moved to second on a perfect sacrifice bunt from Duarte. That brought up Enos, who slapped a base hit up the middle into the outfield to bring Brown home for a quick 1-0 advantage.

Just two innings later, the top of the order helped Taunton increase its lead. Both Brown and Enos walked before Handrahan drilled a hard grounder up the third base line, bringing a run home. Enos and Handrahan came home to score on a single from freshman Hanna Aldrich to make it 4-0 in favor of Taunton.

“They worked so hard all these years and for us to finally have a chance for it, we really wanted them to have it,” Aldrich said of the seniors.

“It’s crazy, it’s an amazing feeling,” Handrahan said. “I’m so happy to do it with my best friends, my seniors. And everyone as a whole, it’s an honor to be on this team, I love everyone so much.”

The three seniors, who combined for half of Taunton’s 12 hits and were responsible for driving in five runs and scoring five runs, were the catalysts of the Tigers’ biggest inning — the fifth inning.

Duarte got things going with a one-out single, Enos reached on an infield error, and Handrahan took first on a fielder’s choice when Duarte beat the throw to third. A base hit from Aldrich brought Duarte home but kept the bases loaded. Junior Alexa White delivered the big blow with a two-out grand slam to put Taunton ahead 9-1.

“We just knew we had to come in and do our jobs,” Handrahan said. “We wanted to hit the ball as much as we could and get runs on the board.”

“We really focused on softball,” said Duarte, who finished her fourth year on varsity. “We knew we had the chance to go far, we worked hard at practices. We didn’t want to waste all the hard work we had this year so it was a great way to end it.”

A solo shot from Wachusett in the bottom of the fifth grave the Mountaineers a tiny bit of momentum but Taunton came back with a big response in the sixth inning. Duarte drove Brown in with a double and Enos sent Duarte home with a single to make it 11-2.

“It’s been a long five years, getting in the top four seeds each season only to lose early or lose an upset,” Enos said. “We’ve beat ourselves in the past but we truly showed what kind of team we are this year. There’s been a lot of blood, sweat, and tears on that Jack Tripp Field. I could not have asked for a better way to end it. Not many people can say they go out their senior year as a state champion. I’m so happy for everyone.”

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“Kya and Mack have been my best friends for as long as I can remember and it’s great to have such a bond with the other two seniors,” Duarte said. “We all really worked well together, there were no arguments. We stayed close, we worked hard together and we ended it with a championship.”

Enos admitted that although it’s sad that the trio won’t play together again in a Taunton uniform, it was the perfect ending to a storied career.

“I’m wicked proud of both of them,” Enos said of her two fellow seniors. “Liana has worked really hard. Mackenzie does her job so well, she can really hit. Both of them, neither played outfield before, and look at them now, they were great.”

Quick Start, Strong Pitching Power Taunton to Final

Taunton softball
Taunton freshman Kelsey White retired the first 12 batters she faced and allowed only five hits and one run in the state semifinal against Newton North. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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LOWELL, Mass. – It is a long trip from Taunton up to Martin Field in Lowell through late afternoon traffic, but the Tigers apparently arrived on their coach bus ready to go for Tuesday night’s state semifinal.

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Taunton scored six runs in the opening two innings, Kelsey White had a perfect game into the fifth and allowed only five hits, and the Tigers ended an 11-year wait to get back to the state championship game with a 6-1 win over North champion Newton North.

“It doesn’t even feel real,” said junior Jaime Brown, a four-year starter for the Tigers, about having the chance to play for a state championship. “We’ve worked so hard and it’s just falling at our feet. It’s crazy, but it just feels so good.”

White was masterful in the circle again for Taunton. Just a freshman, experiencing the postseason stage for the first time, White has not been awed by the moment and she retired the first 12 batters that she faced on Tuesday before Mia Bueno singled to lead-off the fifth.

“She pitches real tough,” Taunton coach Dave Lewry said of White. “She had everything going today, all her pitches, she was hitting her spots. I know they can hit, I know they can put the ball in play, but I’ve got to give all the credit to Kelsey. She just did a fabulous job for us.”

White admitted, “I was very nervous at first but going out there and knowing that I have the best defense behind me makes me more comfortable.” She also got help from Brown and the other upperclassmen. She said, “They pick me up every time I get down and make sure I go and get the next batter.”

Taunton helped out its freshman pitcher with some early runs. The Tigers have been strong with two outs in the postseason and they managed to rally again in the first. Kya Enos lined a single through the hole on the left side for a two-out baserunner. The senior catcher stole second and then came around to score the opening run on a base hit by classmate Mackenzie Handrahan.

The Tigers broke the game wide open in the second. This time they did not wait until there were two outs to get started, instead scoring six times before committing one.

Kelsey White was hit by a pitch to lead off and her older sister Alexa White followed by drawing a nine-pitch walk. Paige Silvia dropped down a bunt and White hustled into third to beat the throw and load the bases. The hero from the South final, sophomore Rylie Murphy, brought in the first run with a grounder to the left side, reaching on a fielder’s choice to keep the bases full.

Brown, Taunton’s lead-off hitter, emptied the bases, drilling a pitch into the gap in left-center for a triple that scored three. The throw to third bounced off Brown and to the fence in front of the Tigers’ dugout, allowing her to come home too.

“That’s always across you mind, you want the big hit, but honestly I was just looking for a single to bring a run in and chip away and getting them all in was just a bonus,” said Brown.

Lewry added, “That puts a lot of pressure on the other team. They can’t play for one run, they’ve got to be swinging the bats and I don’t think that’s their game. They like to bunt and run and get runs here or there. That was a key for us.”

The Tigers also threatened in the third and seemed to have Newton North on the ropes. Alexa White singled to start the inning and moved into scoring position on a Silvia sac bunt. Murphy singled to left to put two on and was pinch-run for by Abbie McDonough, who promptly stole second.

Newton North pitcher Mia Patriacca got Brown and Liana Duarte looking to escape the jam. Taunton did not put another batter on base, as Patriacca retired the final 11 hitters she faced.

“We kind of deflated after that and never got back to hitting the ball,” Lewry explained. “I think that kind of took our momentum away from us. They let up a little with a six-run lead, but we did what we had to do.”

Newton North finally got something going in the fifth. Bueno singled to left to start the inning, the first baserunner of the night for the North champs. Kira Flegenheimer followed with a single but was forced at second on a grounder to Hanna Aldrich. With runners at the corners, Ciara Gillen hit a weak fly ball into shallow right field that dropped just in front of McDonough and allowed the run to score.

White needed to bear down, as momentum seemed to be shifting to the suddenly loud visiting side. She got a grounder to second and then a strikeout to end the inning and preserve a five-run lead.

“They got runners on base,” White said, “but I knew we just had to get the outs and not worry about them. We just needed to get all the outs that we could.”

“Is she only a freshman?” Lewry joked. “She doesn’t act like it, I’ll tell you that. She is the calmest, coolest, most collected person on the mound that we’ve had in a long, long time. She didn’t fall apart at all, she stuck with it, threw her pitches and got us out of it.”

The visitors got a one-out hit in the sixth, but Brown made a nice play on the run to field a short grounder down the third base line and White showed her ability to field her position as she managed to move to her left to snag a tricky grounder.

In the seventh, Newton North again got a one-out hit to put the pressure on Taunton, but White induced a grounder to her sister at second to force the lead runner and then struck out the final batter looking to set off another raucous celebration.

“It’s the best experience,” said White. “It’s very nerve-wracking, but it’s the best experience. I’m very happy for [the seniors] and all I want it for is them and the team.”

Lewry was asked if he was surprised at all to see the Tigers in this position of playing for a state championship. He replied, “I envisioned this team being capable of being in this position, so I’m not surprised by it. It’s not an easy road, of course, but there’s a lot of talent here and I think the heart has shown through. Especially in the tournament, they’re in it for each other and that really makes a huge difference.”

Taunton (25-2) will face the Central champ Wachusett in the state title game at Worcester State on Saturday at 6:00. Wachusett (much like Newton North in the semifinal) was also at this stage last year and lost to Milford in the championship game.

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2018 Hockomock League Softball All Stars

Below are the official 2018 Hockomock League Softball All Stars, selected by the coaches in the league.

Hockomock League Co-MVPs

Hannah Davis, Foxboro
Kya Enos, Taunton

Hockomock League All Stars

Mckenzie Bergdoll, Attleboro
Elizabeth Bickett, Canton
Hannah Davis, Foxboro
Anna Balkus, Franklin
Meghan Gorman, King Philip
Elise Pereira, King Philip
Faith Turinese, King Philip
Emily Piergustavo, Milford
Kelley Reichert, Milford
Kate Irwin, Milford
Jess Tomaso, Milford
Maddy Bonvino, Milford
Bella Erti, North Attleboro
Abby Gallagher, North Attleboro
Olivia Capobianco, North Attleboro
Alexis Campbell, Oliver Ames
Gina Carafa, Stoughton
Jaime Brown, Taunton
Kya Enos, Taunton
MacKenzie Handrahan, Taunton
Kelsey White, Taunton
Hannah Aldrich, Taunton
Liana Duarte, Taunton

Honorable Mentions:
Makenzie Killough, Attleboro
Evelyn Carrington, Canton
Lexi Buckner, Foxboro
Meg Caron, Franklin
Jessica Bonner, King Philip
Caty DeMassi, Mansfield
Sabrina Haarstick, Milford
Ashley Cangiano, North Attleboro
Katie Mills, Oliver Ames
Rebecca Clayman, Sharon
Jordan Lyons, Stoughton
McKenzie McAloon, Taunton

Taunton Gets Right Bounce to Beat KP in South Final

Taunton softball
Taunton sophomore Rylie Murphy celebrates at first after driving in the go-ahead runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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TAUNTON, Mass. – In the bottom of the sixth inning, Taunton put together a rally to try and regain the lead against King Philip (21-4) in Friday night’s Div. 1 South final at Jack Tripp Field. The first two batters reached and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. An intentional walk loaded the bases for No. 9 hitter Rylie Murphy.

The sophomore made her first start of the playoffs, after playing a handful of games and getting fewer than 20 at-bats on varsity in the regular season, and was now up in the biggest moment of the spring against the team’s biggest rival. Taunton coach Dave Lewry admitted that adding Murphy to the lineup was a “hunch.”

It was a hunch that paid off with a South title.

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Murphy battled to a 3-2 count against KP starter Elise Pereira, who was only a strike away from escaping the jam, before turning on a pitch and smacking a grounder down the third base line. KP third baseman Jess Bonner dove but the ball hit a mound of dirt in front of her, took a huge hop, and bounced into shallow left field, bringing in the game-winning runs.

“It’s like what you have in dreams, two outs, 3-2 count, bottom of the sixth inning and you just hit it and you don’t even know where it goes and all of a sudden your coach is screaming, jumping up and down and you’re so excited,” said Murphy after Taunton’s 4-2 victory, which earned the program’s first South title since 2007.

Lewry was all smiles as he talked about Murphy and the contributions she has made to the team off the field all season. He said, “A kid who sits the bench all year, cheering for everybody, and comes into this game and gets the winning hit, unbelievable.”

He added, “She’s a kid that puts the bat on the ball all the time. You’ve got to put the bat on the ball to get hits. If you swing and miss or take a called third then you’re not going to get anything.”

The Warriors were far from finished. In the top of the seventh, Bonner ripped a hard line drive to third but Jaime Brown knocked it down and made the play for the first out. Brooke Taute and Brianna Lacy were both hit by pitches from freshman Kelsey White to bring the go-ahead run to the plate.

“Probably the most nervous she got all year was hitting two batters in the last inning,” said Lewry of White. He gathered the team in the circle to settle everyone down. “That’s one of her traits, she’s just so composed,” he added. “She’s amazing, I love her demeanor out there on the mound.”

White got a pop-up in foul ground and a soft liner that shortstop Hanna Aldrich made a nice running catch on to end the game. It meant the Tigers won the season series with KP, after splitting two games in the regular season (and losing the Kelley-Rex title to the Warriors) and fulfilled a mission for the team’s three seniors and for Brown, who was an eighth grader when Taunton made the final in 2015 but lost to Silver Lake.

“Since my eighth grade year, being here and losing, we’ve been working for this for so long,” Brown explained. “It gave you that pit in the bottom of your stomach. There was no other option; we knew we were winning today.”

Taunton took the lead for the first time in the second inning. Kelsey White lined a one-out single to left and her sister Alexa, a junior second baseman, drilled a double down the leftfield line to bring in the game’s first run.

As expected in a rivalry that is fast becoming one of the best in the state, one run was not going to be enough. KP battled back in the top of the fourth to jump in front.

Hailey McCasland led-off with a walk and moved to second on a groundout. Faith Turinese singled to right but the runner had to hold at third. After Turinese stole second, KP coach Norm Beauchemin called for a Pereira squeeze bunt, but Kelsey White fielded her position well to scoop the ball to catcher Kya Enos for the second out.

The Tigers nearly got out of the inning unscathed, but Aldrich bobbled a Bonner grounder to extend the inning and bring in the tying run. Taute followed that by crushing a ball to dead center that was inches from being gone. Instead it was an RBI-double to put KP up 2-1.

“We didn’t beat ourselves tonight and that’s what I’m proud of,” said Beauchemin of the Warriors battling back. “We know we’re going to have a tough game and they expect a tough game on their end as well.”

Taunton almost came right back to tie it after Handrahan started the bottom of the fourth with a double, but she was stranded. In the fifth, the Tigers did even the score. Paige Silvia lined a double to left center and moved to third on a sac bunt by Murphy. Brown grounded a ball to KP shortstop Meghan Gorman, who was playing deep enough to allow the run to score.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been more confident in this team in years. Even when we were down, we knew we could pick it up,” said Brown. When asked about the contributions from the bottom of the order, she added, “We’ve been working on it all season and trying to get that whole lineup going and it’s a perfect timing for all of it to come together.”

In the sixth inning, Handrahan again got things started with a single off the glove of Bonner, who was at full stretch going to her left. Aldrich lined a ball off the leg of Pereira and into no-man’s land in front of second base. Kelsey White’s sac bunt moved the runners into scoring position and Beauchemin called for an intentional walk of Alexa White to give KP a force at the plate.

It worked on the next hitter, as Silvia’s grounder to Bonner turned into the second out when the third baseman gunned down the lead runner. Murphy came up next and with the pressure on, she delivered the hit that decided the South title.

“It wasn’t only the lucky break,” said Beauchemin, “they earned the first two runs and of course they got a lucky break, but such is life. I thought it was two evenly-matched teams coming into this game.”

Lewry said, “It took kind of a bad-hop ground ball to make the difference, but we’ll take it all the time. These kids don’t quit. They’ve got a lot of guts and they hung in there and found a way to come back and do the job.”

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Murphy tried to reflect on what was going through her mind as she stepped up to the plate in the decisive moment, knowing that this was a chance to not only win the game, but also to give the upperclassman the title that they have been craving since their last final appearance four years ago.

“It’s so overwhelming,” she said. “I’m just so glad that I got to be to be able to be in the game and be around to hit the ball. I just feel so amazing to win.

“I’ve never wanted to win this for them and for everybody so badly in my entire life.”

Taunton (24-2) will face the winner of Methuen and Newton North in the state semifinal on Tuesday night at Martin Field in Lowell.

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