PLAINVILLE, Mass. – Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning of Saturday afternoon’s first meeting between the preseason Kelley-Rex title favorites at the Plainville Athletic League fields, King Philip had been held without a hit by Taunton freshman pitcher Kelsey White.
The Warriors had the middle of the order due up for the final at-bat and plenty of confidence on the bench that a comeback was still possible.
A lead-off single by Meg Gorman broke up the no-hitter, catcher Brianna Lacy battled for a two-out walk to keep the game alive and senior pitcher Elise Pereira, who had not gotten the ball out of the infield in her first two at bats, drilled a two-out, walk-off three-run homer over the left-field fence.
Pereira’s blast gave KP a 3-2 victory, stunned the Tigers, and gave the Warriors an early edge in the race for the league title, which KP has won 11 times in the past 12 years.
“You’ve just got to be loud and you’ve got to try and create the energy if you can’t do it with the bats,” Pereira explained. “We knew that was our last shot, so we gave it all we had.”
When asked if she had learned anything helpful from her two previous at-bats, Pereira said, “She was throwing all fastballs inside, so I backed off the plate a little so I could get my hands inside and she threw it right there.”
Coming into the game, both teams had been relying on potent offenses, but Saturday was a pitcher’s duel, as White and Pereira were both keeping hitters off-balance by hitting spots and mixing speeds.
“I thought there would be more runs today,” said KP coach Norm Beauchemin, “but it was excellent pitching on both ends. It was fun. It was a fun game.”
MacKenzie Handrahan lined a single to left to start the second and, after a strikeout, she barely beat Gorman to the bag after the KP shortstop made a superb diving stop behind second. With two on and no outs, Pereira got a strikeout and a fly ball to left to get out of the jam.
Taunton broke the deadlock in the fourth inning. Kya Enos got it started by drawing a walk and advancing to second on a comebacker from Handrahan. A wild pitch moved the Taunton senior catcher to third and with a 3-0 count, freshman Hanna Aldrich dropped down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt to get the run home.
It was a game with few mistakes, as both defenses were just about flawless through the first few innings. In the sixth, Taunton added an insurance run and again it was the middle of the order that came through.
Taunton coach Dave Lewry said, “We didn’t hit any great shots but we did what we had to do to get the runs in there. For a ninth grader she does pretty good job. Our offense revolves around Kya, we all know that, and she’s having a great year for us so far.”
KP had little going offensively. After getting a runner to second in the first and another baserunner in the second, the Warriors did not get another player on base until two outs in the sixth when Sydney Phillips reached on an error. White fielded a pop up in front of the plate to close out the inning and preserve the two-run lead.
“She was hitting her spots beautifully,” said Lewry of White’s performance. “We were in and out, up and down a little bit, and she might have gotten a little tired because it was her first time going past five innings actually. She acted like an ace today.”
The Tigers could have put the game away in the seventh. Alexa White ripped a single down the left-field line and Kelsey White drew a four-pitch walk. Jaime Brown dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move both into scoring position and an error on a popped up bunt by Liana Duarte loaded the bases with one out.
Enos hit one to Taute at first, who was able to get the lead runner at the plate, and Handrahan bounced back to Pereira to end the threat. Pereira scattered six hits in the game, while striking out seven (many on her change-up) in what both she and her coach called her best start of the season.
Pereira said, “This was my best outing of the season. I learned a lot from the last couple games, Newton North and Feehan, and learned where I needed to put the ball and pitches I needed to throw to get them where I wanted the batters to be.”
“We got a couple of gifts there to load the bases with one out and had the three, four hitters coming up but it didn’t happen,” said Lewry of the missed opportunity to add insurance runs. “Then you walk a batter in the seventh, and she pitched a fabulous game, but put the runner on and home run and it’s over.”
Gorman started the rally in the bottom of the seventh with a single to left, her second time reaching base in the game. After a pop up to Aldrich at short and a liner right to Handrahan in left, Taunton was one out from the win. Lacy put a scare into the Tigers ripping a long foul ball to left that would have been gone had it been pulled a little less. She fouled off several White pitches and fought her way to a hard-earned walk that brought the winning run to the plate.
“I think Bri’s at-bat was the big one,” said Beauchemin. “That helped Elise realize we’re making good contact now.” Pereira added, “Her at-bat definitely wore out the pitcher a little and then I got a great pitch.”
Beauchemin was asked if he had any advice for Pereira before her final at-bat and he replied, “Nope. Not at all. I don’t want to jinx anybody.”
Pereira fell behind but she squared up the pitch she was looking for and crushed it over the left-field fence to the right of the scoreboard and lifted KP to an improbable win when it seemed like the Warriors were going to fall behind their biggest rivals in the division.