TAUNTON, Mass. – Taunton entered Wednesday’s showdown with nine-time defending league champion King Philip (including five straight since the divisional split) with a hard to believe plus-108 run differential and a perfect 8-0 record.
But, the Tigers were still looking for the marquee win to show that this year’s squad has what it takes to get back to the top of the league (Taunton shared the title with KP in 2014) and potentially make a run in Div. 1 South.
Starting pitcher Aimee Kistner, who had yet to be scored on this season, admitted that the team was extra fired up for the visit of the Warriors to Jack Tripp Field. She said, “We were all psyched to play today; it’s all we thought about all day. We were ready to go.”
The Tigers scored a pair of runs in the first inning and Kistner shut down the Warriors, striking out nine and allowing only one base runner to reach second base, to ensure that the lead held up for a 2-0 victory that puts the Tigers (9-0) in front in the league title race.
Taunton coach Dave Lewry said, “We don’t get style points, we don’t get extra points for 20 hits, we win games and that’s what counts.”
When asked about getting the jump on KP in the league, Lewry said with a chuckle, “We kind of put ourselves in this spot last year too and let it slip away. So we ain’t got nothing yet, but it’s always good to get the first one and have them chasing us rather than the other way around.”
Kistner allowed a one-out base hit to Hailey McLasland (3-3) in the first inning, but then struck out Meghan Gorman and Taunton’s Sarah Bagge fired to second to catch McLasland stealing.
In the bottom of the frame, Liana Duarte battled with KP ace Kali Magane to earn a lead-off walk. After Jordan Wade flew out to left, Kistner had a swinging bunt back to Magane that allowed Duarte to move into scoring position.
Cleanup hitter Meghan Navarro followed with a line drive single to left that was momentarily bobbled, although Duarte was already around third at the time. When the throw went to the plate, Navarro took off for second. Magane cut off the throw from Sydney Phillips but her attempt to get Navarro skipped into center and the Taunton second baseman raced home with a second run.
“Heads up base running on her part,” said Lewry. “It would’ve been a close play at second but with two outs you force the issue, they make the mistake and we stole a run, which is huge in a game like this.”
Kistner went back out to the circle with a lead and she admitted that it allowed her to relax just a little. She explained, “It was awesome. I knew that I had my defense behind me and that we had runs behind us. I knew I had backup when I needed it.”
The Warriors finally got something going in the third inning. With two outs, Christa Wagner singled to center and McLasland followed with a single to center. But Kistner bore down and got Gorman to bounce back to the circle, where the pitcher caused a second of panic when she went to third rather than first, but she got the force to escape the jam.
It was the only time in the game that KP managed to get a runner into scoring position.
“Today may have been her best day,” said Lewry of Kistner. “She was hitting her locations, she had all her pitches working. She’d been struggling with the drop but today it was working real good.”
Magane, the reigning HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, was just as good on Wednesday. She struck out six batters, allowed only two hits and one earned run over six innings. Between a lead-off walk in the second and a double by Wade in the sixth, Magane retired 11 straight Tigers.
KP coach Norm Beauchemin said, “Kali pitched a great game. When you have a two-hitter and the second hit is in the sixth inning…what can you say? You can’t say anything bad about her.”
He added, “If you don’t score then you don’t win, plain and simple. Their pitcher kept us off-balance. We haven’t struck out hardly at all this year and…she had a good game, very good game…We outhit them but they got the hit when it counted.”
The Warriors also flashed the leather to keep Taunton off the board after the first. Magane made a sliding grab on a Bailey Clapp bloop down the third base line and two batters later Wade hit a sinking liner that Ashley Hession was able to snag on the edge of the outfield grass.
In the top of the seventh, Kistner got Elise Pereira to ground to Wade at short and Hession to fly to Kya Enos in center. With two down, she fired a rise ball that got Magane to swing to end the game and send the bench charging out to greet the pitcher as she left the field.
“You saw the rise ball today; she got four or five strikeouts on the rise and that’s something she really put a lot of work on over the winter,” said Lewry of Kistner’s improvement from last year to this season. “That kid works hard all the time and she’s going to give you everything she’s got.”
The Tigers had been looking to prove themselves against another top team and they were able to succeed against their biggest league rival. Kistner is already looking forward to the next meeting on May 18.
She said, “I know that KP is always a big game so to jump ahead of them…just adds fuel to the fire for next time.”
Taunton has now outscored teams 111-1 through nine games, but Kistner is not going overboard with so many challenges still facing the Tigers.
“We’re definitely very confident,” she explained, “but we’re not overconfident because then we don’t play up to the competition.”
The Tigers will face another division challenge on Friday against Mansfield. KP is in a stretch of three games in three days and will face Franklin on Thursday before hosting defending state champion St. Peter Marian on Friday.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.
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