The Hawks built a five-run lead in the top of the fifth but the Tigers plated four runs over the next two innings to get within one. Milford, the defending D1 State champions, buckled down in the seventh to earn an 8-7 win in the season opener for both teams.
“This group is writing their chapter for 2018,” said Milford head coach Steve DiVitto. “This game wasn’t going to make or break our season…it’s a great test against an outstanding program, extremely well coached. They have some incredible talent and we’re fortunate to battle and come out with a win.”
Milford’s big inning all started with its No. 9 hitter, senior Antonia Bonina. In her first start, Bonina faced 10 pitches in the at-bat, getting enough contact on the final pitch to beat Taunton’s infield, which was pulled in.
“That’s Antonia’s first varsity start, and she’s a tough kid, a tough player,” DiVitto said. “She’s been waiting her turn, she’s had some injuries. I was really happy for her to have a great game today, and that at-bat was huge. It really got the inning going and we really started rolling. I think it gave us some life there.”
Senior Kate Irwin just beat out the throw for a bunt single, and senior Emily Piergsutavo loaded the bases after being hit by a pitch. Senior Jess Tomaso drove one to the outfield to score two runs. Two batters later, senior Shannon Cormier laced one to left field for an RBI single and a 5-3 lead.
Senior Maddy Bonvino reached after an error at second allowed Cormier to beat the fielder’s choice throw to second. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, senior Kelley Reichert belted a deep hit to center for a double, clearing the bases and giving Milford an 8-3 advantage heading to the bottom of the fifth.
“We knew we can swing the bat, that’s definitely no secret that it’s a strength of ours,” DiVitto said. “The girls kept battling, kept putting good at-bats on, and kept communicating with each other, which I think is big. [White] had us off balance there early on but we were able to put some good swings on it in the middle innings and put some runs up.”
Taunton senior Kya Enos started the bottom of the fifth with a leadoff single and took second on a passed ball. A ground out allowed Enos to advance to third and freshman McKenzie McAloon plated Enos with an RBI single.
Tigers sophomore Jaylin Couto, who came in in relief to get the final out of the fifth, picked up two strikeouts in a quick sixth inning.
“I give my kids a lot of credit,” said Taunton head coach Dave Lewry. “We kind of had a nightmare inning there in the fifth and things unraveled on us and we fell behind by five, yet there was no quit in them. They felt like we could come back and win, and they showed it. We made a nice comeback and had a shot there, just had a couple of opportunities to score some runs and we couldn’t get the hit.”
Taunton was able to rally with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Junior Jaime Brown (2-for-3, two runs) connected for a single, took second on a passed ball, and senior Liana Duarte walked to put two runners on. Enos (2-for-4, three runs) then delivered with a hard line drive home run over the fence in left center field to cut the deficit to one, 8-7.
“She’s a five-year starter on this team, she wants to lead,” Lewry said of Enos. “She’s been a leader for the last three years. That’s the kind of hitter she is. She had kind of a rough day at first, hadn’t made great contact and then she turned on that pitch with great contact and got us right back into this game.”
Couto (2.2 IP, 7 K) struck out the side in the top of the seventh to give Taunton some momentum heading into the final half inning.
“She did a heck of a job,” Lewry said of Couto. “I thought [starting pitcher] Kelsey [White] (4.2 IP, 7 ER, 6 K) pitched real well too. But she was getting tired, she was starting to leave the pitches up. Jaylin came in and struck out seven batters. She can pitch, she has a lot of nice movement on her pitches and she throws hard. She threw strikes today which is a big thing for her.”
Freshman Hanna Aldrich led off with a single but Reichert (7 IP, 6 ER, 4 K) notched a strikeout and got a force out at second on a fielder’s choice. Reichert then ended the game by inducing a ground ball right back to herself.
“Kelley’s an outstanding pitcher, now she has the opportunity to really take the team and throw them on her back,” DiVitto said. “She hit a bit of a wall there in the middle innings but she dug deep and she did a great job of continuing to battle and finding a way to win.”
The Hawks opened the scoring in the top of the first behind an RBI single from Cormier that played Piergustavo.
Taunton responded right away in the bottom half of the inning. Brown (walk) and Duarte (error) both reached but Brown was forced out at third on Enos’ fielder’s choice. Senior Mackenzie Handrahan (2-for-4, three RBI) hit a grounder through the left side to bring Duarte home, and in the next at-bat, Aldrich connected to bring Enos home to make it 2-1.
Milford knotted the game in the top of the third behind a one-out double from Tomaso. A single from Emily Hartman moved Tomaso to third, and the senior scored on a sacrifice fly from Cormier.
Taunton took the lead back in the bottom of the third, sparked by back-to-back singles from Brown and Duarte. Handrahan drove a one-out shot to left for an RBI single to make it 3-2. DiVitto elected to intentionally walk Aldrich to load the bases and the plan worked as Reichert induced consecutive groundouts to escape without further damage.
“I told the kids, [Milford] is the defending state champs, that’s the team a lot of people are picking to repeat,” Lewry said. “I think they have eight senior starts, they are still one heck of a team. To be able to play with them the way we did today, I think we can play with anybody. We just have a few things to iron out and we’ll be good to go.”
Taunton (0-1, 0-1) will look to bounce back on the same day when it hosts Mansfield.