CANTON, Mass. – With an opportunity to make history for the program, North Attleboro put together a near perfect performance on Friday night under the lights at Walsh Field. The Rocketeers shut down division rival Canton, with junior pitcher Bella Erti throwing a five-inning perfect game, and the bats came alive, pounding out 17 hits and 13 runs.
It all came together for Big Red, which rolled to a 13-0 victory and secured at least a share of the program’s first league title since 1990. On top of that, it was also the 250th win of head coach Bill Wallace’s 20-year career (18 at North and two at Walpole).
After the game, the team presented Wallace with a ball signed by all the players and they gathered in the outfield and at home plate with a sign that had 1990 crossed out on one half and 2019 written on the other.
“We had a team meeting before the bus and we said, this is it,” Wallace explained after the game. “This is the homestretch and we need to get our focus and start winning every pitch. Not win every inning, every game, it’s got to be every pitch and the kids were really dialed in today.”
Canton freshman pitcher Sophia Santos threw a perfect top of the first, but the Rocketeers got to the Bulldogs starter in the second. Annabelle Hebard (4-for-4) led off with a double to left center and Katie Daby (3-for-3) followed with a single. Emily Nardelli walked to load the bases and then Alex Moulson lined a two-run single to left.
After a sac bunt moved two runners into scoring position and a walk to No. 9 hitter Mandi Hanewich (2-for-2), Olivia Capobianco drilled a base hit to center, aggressively taking second just ahead of the throw, to plate two more. A sac fly from Abby Gallagher made it 5-0, but the inning ended with Canton centerfielder Liz Bickett throwing out Capobianco as she tried to advance to third.
Erti started the game strongly, striking out two in each of the first two innings. In the third, North tacked on three more. Ashley Cangiano (2-for-3) singled and took second on a wild pitch before scoring on a hit by Hebard. After Caroline Hughes took over in the circle for the Bulldogs, Daby drilled a triple over the head of the right fielder. Daby scored on a groundout by Nardelli.
The Bulldogs continued to struggle at the plate, but started making contact against Erti, striking out only once after the second inning. North’s infield defense made no mistakes to keep Canton off the base paths.
“They played so clean and I look at all nine positions they play the game the right way,” said first-year Canton coach Dave Bohane.
He added, “Against some girls you can try to be patient because they might have a wild streak to them but with Bella Erti, she’s in control out there. But, our kids went up there not overwhelmed. We can play better than that but again no shame in losing to them.”
North sealed the win in the fourth with five more runs. Hebard drove in her second run of the night, Moulson brought in her third run with a hard grounder off the third baseman and Hanewich cleared the bases with a double pulled straight down the line and right over the first base bag.
“I thought Hughes came in and did well,” Bohane said. “She’s a veteran and battled. I know it’s a lot of runs, but they’re a good hitting team. The bottom of the order has gotten us in both games too.”
In the bottom of the fifth, the Rocketeers clearly wanted to finish off the perfect game for Erti. She induced grounders from SSteph Trendell, Jackie Morrissey, and Hughes. The last one went to first baseman Alivia Byrne, who took it to the bag herself and set off the team’s celebration.
“They’re so happy,” said Wallace about the team pulling for Erti to get the perfect game. “That means a lot to me. At the end of the day, that is what’s important and they really pull for each other.”
When asked about what it meant for the program to get over the hump (North had a stretch of three straight seasons that it finished one game out of first place) and claim an elusive league title, Wallace pointed out that his team has made the playoffs 11 out of the last 12 years, reached two South semifinals, and one South final.
As he explained, North’s 29-year wait for a league crown was more a product of the level of competition that the Rocketeers faced within the league.
“Part of it was that we were in the Kelley-Rex division with Taunton and King Philip,” Wallace said. “And then there was Milford, which lost like three games in two seasons. It shows how strong the league is. Since 2008, we’ve missed the tournament just once and yet this is our first league title.”
North Attleboro (12-3, 10-2) can clinch the outright Davenport division crown on Monday with a win at Foxboro. Canton (6-10, 5-9) will host Milford on Tuesday and needs a win against Dedham on May 23 to secure a playoff spot thanks to the Sullivan rule.