In the spring of 2000, there was a new, albeit familiar, face on the bench for the Taunton softball program. Former freshman coach Dave Lewry was promoted to take over from legendary coach Jack Tripp, who the field is now named after, with a mandate to keep the Tigers among the best teams in the state. “Jack Tripp handed me one of the very best programs in the state,” Lewry explained. “I said to him, ‘Jack I’m going to do everything I can to keep the program at the level that you just handed it over to me,’ and his words were, I’ll never forget them, ‘You better.’”
Lewry lived up to that promise and then some, becoming a Taunton legend in his own right.
He announced late last week that he was stepping down after 20 seasons as head coach. Over those two decades, his teams made the playoffs every year, won 407 games, winning more than 80 percent of the games over that span, brought home a dozen league titles (including three in seven years in the Hockomock League), and won four state titles (the most recent coming in 2018).
“I think maybe that’s what I’m most proud of is that the program maintained this level from when I took it over from a legendary coach and kept things moving,” he explained. “There wasn’t one year that we weren’t considered at least who could win the states. Maybe not the favorite or in the top two or three, but we always had enough talent to compete in the tournament and potentially win it if we played our best.”
The decision on whether or not to retire is one that Lewry makes after every season. In the months since the Tigers had their run at back-to-back state titles ended by Bishop Feehan in the Div. 1 South semifinal, he considered family responsibilities as well as his desire to travel with his wife of nearly 49 years. In the end, Lewry, who turned 70 this year, felt now was the best time to step away.
Only Taunton athletic director Mark Ottavianelli and long-time assistant coach Paul Dominico knew how seriously Lewry was thinking about retirement. While he trusts that he is making the right decision, Lewry was overcome by emotion when he had to tell the team.
“All of the emotional aspects of it hit you when you sit and talk to the kids,” he said. “That’s when it gets tough. That’s where I was at the other day. I was a mess.
“I’m going to miss being with the kids every day. That was a big part of my enjoyment. I’m certainly going to miss the competition and the adrenaline rush that comes with that and just the excitement of being around the sport.”
Lewry knows that there will be a pang of regret when the season gets underway in a few months, although maybe not as much during those first few weeks of the spring season. “In the middle, end of March I’ll probably be pretty happy because it’s 26 degrees and you’re outside at practice,” he joked, “but maybe mid-, late-April it will start to hit me.”
Looking back on 20 years with the Tigers, Lewry has seen a number of changes in the sport and with the program. Early in his tenure, the mound was moved back from 40 feet to 43 feet, altering the way that pitchers, including Taunton star Erin Wade, approached the game. “Pitchers couldn’t just throw hard,” he said, “now they had to pitch. Now you need the breaking balls, you need the spins, the ball to move as well as being able to command.”
Club softball has also grown during his time on the bench, becoming a year-round pursuit that has developed the skills of players coming into the program but also has impacted the mentality of some players. He said, “Kids are being taught that sports are all about the individual and not about playing as a team, playing for your school, for your friends, your community. It’s too much of that idea of you showcasing your talents for the college coaches sitting in the standings watching.”
The third major change for Taunton was its move into the Hock. Since 2013, the Tigers have won the Kelley-Rex division title three times, including twice outright. Last year, Taunton edged Franklin by a game and Lewry insisted that level of competition has added more motivation for the program to improve. “That was a great thing for us,” he said of the move from the Old Colony League to the Hock. “It came at exactly the right time, and I think it’s really pushed us to go a little bit harder.”
Taunton was hardly a mystery to Hock teams when the Tigers joined the league. Many had squared off with Taunton in the playoffs and had a healthy respect for the program and for Lewry. North Attleboro coach Bill Wallace, who earned his 200th career win this past spring, first met Lewry in the South semifinals in 2003. The Rocketeers had the Tigers on the schedule for three years before becoming league rivals.
“His kids were so well-coached that if he called for a squeeze, hit and run, or double steal they always knew what to do,” Wallace said. “After games, win or lose, Dave always had something nice to say about your team and this was sincere as we had some grinders with them!”
Former Franklin coach Kate Fallon-Comeau, who will take over at King Philip this spring, has become close to Lewry during his time in the league, calling him a mentor and a friend. She praised the consistency of the program and the way Taunton teams were always prepared for the challenges that the Panthers, and other teams, presented.
“They were always the toughest team in the league to face, year after year, didn’t matter how many had graduated, there was always another fundamentally sound player to step into a vacancy,” she explained.
Fallon-Comeau added, “The game doesn’t know how old you are or what grade you are in, nor does it care and neither did Dave. He played the best 9-10 players, some being only eighth graders, and they became some of the best players the game has seen.”
Next year’s team promises to be just as talented. Taunton returns starting pitcher Kelsey White, the 2019 HockomockSports.com Player of the Year, and starting shortstop Hanna Aldrich, the 2019 Underclassman of the Year, among a host of other top players.
When asked about leaving while the team still has the potential to make a run at another state title, Lewry replied, “I’d rather leave under these circumstances knowing that the cupboard isn’t bare by any means. I’d much rather do that than wait until everyone graduated and it was a rebuilding year.”
He laughed when it was pointed out that Taunton rarely has to rebuild, adding, “That’s the great thing about coaching at Taunton, there’s always that next stud player coming through. I feel so, so fortunate to have the level of talent that we’ve had.”
The talent at Taunton remains but it will now be up to someone new to put it all together. Twenty years ago, Dave Lewry stepped into a legend’s shoes and kept the Tigers among the state’s best and now it will be someone else’s turn to do the same.
TAUNTON, Mass. – Sophomore Kelsey White and the Taunton softball team didn’t give third-seeded Bishop Feehan many chances, but the Shamrocks took advantage of the little opportunities they had.
Meanwhile, the Tigers had a handful of opportunities, putting at least one runner in scoring position in five innings, and a runner on base in six of the seven innings, but an uncharacteristic performance from second-seeded Taunton put an end to its season.
Bishop Feehan scored single runs in the first, sixth, and seventh innings while Taunton was limited to just one run, leaving six runners on base in scoring position as the Shamrocks earned a 3-1 win a D1 South Semifinal contest.
“We had many chances,” said Taunton head coach Dave Lewry. “It comes down to a game of execution. You have to execute at the plate, in the field, and on the bases, and we picked the wrong game not to execute. It wasn’t a good game for us all around. We didn’t execute. We took too many called strike threes. We played well all year, but the wrong game to play poorly.”
The Shamrocks got off to an ideal start with leadoff hitter Jessica Levesque clubbing a triple to right center field. White (7IP, 6H, 1BB, 3R, 1ER, 3K) induced a ground ball to shortstop and the runner originally held, but after a brief bobble a throwing error allowed Levesque to score and the Feehan runner to get to second.
After a walk, McKenzie McAloon started a double play to get two outs and White got a fly ball to center to strand a runner at third and minimize the damage to just one run.
Taunton had a bevy of chances to tie the game and even take a lead, but couldn’t find the timely hit necessary.
“We had timely hitting,” said Feehan coach Bill Milot. “We did not play a flawless game but fortunately [Taunton] wasn’t able to capitalize on our mistakes and we were able to capitalize on theirs.”
In the bottom of the first, sophomore Hanna Aldrich ripped a two-out double but Feehan pitcher Brooke Scorzinski (7IP, 4H, 4BB, 1ER, 9K) got a pop up in foul territory behind the plate for the third out.
Heads up base running allowed White to get to second on an error in the second with one out, and quickly moved to third on a ground out. But the Tigers couldn’t get the run in as Scorzinski got one of her nine strikeouts to end the frame.
Jaime Brown doubled with one out in the third inning, Alexa White walked, and both advanced on a passed ball to put runners in scoring position with one out. But again Scorzinski got a big strikeout (looking) for the second out. McAloon was hit by the pitch to load the bases but Taunton couldn’t manufacture anything as Scorzinski got a soft line drive back to the circle.
A walk and an error put Kelsey White and Paige Silvia on first and second with no outs but neither runner would advance any further as the Tigers failed on a sac bunt attempt and had three straight fly ball outs.
“I would definitely say it was uncharacteristic,” Lewry said. “Defensively we had a couple of silly little plays, not being aware of the base runners…not being able to get down bunts, that was critical. We tried three or four times and we didn’t get one down. We talked about executing bunts all year, we’ve practiced it all year, we just didn’t do it tonight.
Meanwhile, Kelsey White was cruising on the mound. She retired the side in order in each the second and fourth innings and didn’t let a one-out single past first in the second. A two-out single from Sierra Basara went nowhere in the fifth went nowhere when White got a big strikeout.
“Kelsey had to really battle tonight,” Lewry said. “Some of her pitches weren’t working the way they normally do so we had to go a different way and I thought she did a heck of a job. We could have been out of there allowing one run if we made a couple of plays, it came down to execution and we didn’t get it done.”
The Shamrocks added to their lead with a run in the top of the sixth inning as Caroline Deem blooped a one-out single and took second on a ground ball. Scorzinski sliced a single to right field that Abbie McDonough fielded, firing a throw home but it wasn’t handled at the plate and the runner from second came across.
Taunton finally broke through in the bottom of the sixth but again left runners in scoring position. Silvia had a one-out single and moved to second on a two-out walk from Rylie Murphy. Brown sliced an RBI double to left field to bring a one run in and make it 2-1. With runners on second and third, Scorzinski got the third out with a strikeout.
Feehan tacked on a big insurance run in the top of the seventh inning. Haley Coupal had a one-out single and moved to third on a soft grounder in front of the plate. With two outs, Levesque was able to reach when her grounder was bobbled at first, and Coupal ran all the way from second to home before the Tigers could fire a throw home.
The Tigers brought the heart of their lineup for the seventh inning but Scorzinski retired the side in order for the first time all game.
Taunton softball finishes the season at 22-3 while Bishop Feehan will play Bridgewater-Raynham in the D1 South Final on Sunday.
TAUNTON, Mass. – Defending state champion Taunton kicked off its title defense on Monday night at Jack Tripp Field against a familiar foe. It is never easy to play a team three times in a season, especially when it is a league rival and annual competitor for the league title.
The Tigers made it a clean sweep against King Philip and earned their third shutout of the Warriors this season, earning a 4-0 victory and getting started on the road to a potential repeat.
“First game of the tournament is always tough,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry about facing an atypical No. 15 seed in the opening round. “We’ve been there before but all the kids were saying they had the butterflies and were a little nervous early on, so get this out of the way and we can move onto tomorrow.”
Senior outfielder Alexa White added, “It’s definitely a relief to have the first one in the books. We have a young team, so we made sure to talk to them yesterday at practice to be prepared that the atmosphere is different, everything’s different, so you need to keep the energy up and you need to relax, at the plate or in the field.”
King Philip (13-9) had been outscored 19-0 in two regular season meetings with Taunton, but the Warriors came into Monday confident that they could pull the upset and had an early chance to get on the board. Raegan Simeone bunted for a hit with one out in the first and then stole second. After a strikeout, Liliana Rolfe walked to put two on base, but Taunton starter Kelsey White snagged a comebacker by her opposite number, Faith Turinese, to end the inning.
The Warriors wouldn’t have another base runner until a one-out single by Rolfe in the fourth. Rolfe was controversially called out on a steal attempt and a pop up to first baseman Tayah DaCosta ended the threat.
“It’s been a struggle against most quality pitchers,” Beauchemin said about the lack of offense. “You’ve got to get that key hit, but we didn’t have many hits to begin with.”
Taunton wasted no time jumping in front. JJaime Brown led off the bottom frame with a double to right center. Abigail McDonough dropped down a bunt to move Brown to third and a wild pitch allowed her to come home with what would turn out to be the game-winning run.
Beauchemin said, “You can’t make any mistakes against this team. They’re as strong as they were last year, if not stronger.”
It stayed 1-0 until the third inning. With one out Brown drew a walk and again McDonough dropped down a bunt to move her into scoring position. Hanna Aldrich, who was robbed of a single in the first by KP shortstop Meghan Gorman, lined a base hit to left to double the lead.
Lewry said, “I just had a feeling it was going to be one of those games, so we want to get runs any way we can, chip away one at a time if we have to and it seemed to work out.”
In the fourth Taunton gave itself a cushion with a two-out rally. Turinese got a pair of fly balls, including one to deep center by Kelsey White, and seemed to be cruising through another inning, but Paige Silvia took a pitch off her thigh. Alexa White followed with a triple that was crushed into the gap in left center. White scored on a double by eighth grader Ava Venturelli.
“It brings the confidence in the next batter up to keep it going and it definitely gets the girls pumped,” said Alexa White about the importance of two-out rallies.
There was one more threat by the Warriors in the seventh, as they tried to keep their season alive. Rolfe was hit by a pitch with one out, reaching base for the third straight time, and Turinese hustled to beat out an infield single. Taunton’s defense made the plays it needed to with Aldrich and Brown grabbing grounders and getting the outs to seal the win.
“I think the kids gave a very good representation today, we played hard,” said Beauchemin. “We’re not young, but we’re inexperienced and I think next year we’re going to be a very formidable team.”
Lewry praised the Warriors and was happy to get through a third meeting with KP. He said, “I think they’re a much better team than they were at the beginning of the season and I thought they played an excellent game tonight. Their defense was good, their pitching was real good, and they just had some trouble hitting Kelsey, which is good for us.”
When asked if things felt any different entering the playoffs defending last year’s title, White said that the Tigers were just trying to focus on the moment rather than the ultimate destination.
“We’ve got a tough road ahead, we know that, but I think we have the talent to do it,” she said. “It’s about pulling everything together with clutch hits and keeping those rallies going. We have the mentality to take every game one step at a time. Just focus on the game you’re playing.”
Taunton (21-2) will host No. 10 seed Marshfield on Tuesday night at Jack Tripp Field.
TAUNTON, Mass. – As she walked off the field following the final out, North Attleboro third baseman Annabelle Hebard, smile on her face, head back, lifted her outstretched arms up and took a big breath. It had been a long couple of days for the Rocketeers, who traveled to Taunton on Friday night for their third game in three days. After suffering back-to-back losses, North went into the regular season finale against its fellow league champion trying to build momentum entering the playoffs.
North showed no ill effects from its busy schedule, jumping out to a four-run lead in the first inning, twice led by the Tigers by five runs, and then held off a late Taunton rally to earn a 6-5 victory at Jack Tripp Field. It was exactly the response that head coach Bill Wallace wanted from the Davenport division champions.
“We kind of needed this tonight,” North coach Bill Wallace explained. “We lost two games that weren’t the easiest to swallow, if you know what I mean, and this one, the kids are like okay we’ve got our mojo back. We did the little things, we bunted, we moved runners along.”
While North had been playing every day, Taunton had been off for five days and there was a little rust at the beginning of the game. Starting pitcher Kelsey White retired the first two North hitters, but then Ashley Cangiano beat out an infield hit on a slow roller to short. Hebard followed with almost the exact same play. Katie Daby made it three straight hits, lining a single to right to score the first run.
After Emily Nardelli drew a walk, Alex Moulson got North’s third infield hit, this time right up the third base line, and brought in the second run. Belle Clarkin, North’s No. 8 hitter, doubled the lead with a bloop single to right that scored a pair of runs.
“They came through with the hits when they needed them,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry, “but sometimes you’ve got to make those dribbler plays when you need them too. We were a little bit slow reacting today.”
A one-out error proved costly in the second inning for Taunton. Cangiano bunted Abby Gallagher to third with two outs and Hebard got her second hit of the day, grounding it right back up the box, to make it 5-0. All five runs were scored with two outs.
“That was really helpful,” said Wallace. “Bella [Erti] has thrown 24 innings in the last three days against three really good teams, so I think she could relax a little bit. She’s got more guts and that’s what it was, a gutsy performance.”
Despite having pitched 17 innings in the previous two days, including an 11-inning outing against Dartmouth on Wednesday, North starter Bella Erti came out firing. She struck out a pair in the first and didn’t allow a hit until the third. She only allowed six hits overall.
Taunton got one back in the fourth inning. Hanna Aldrich drilled a lead-off homer to straightaway center that made it 5-1. An error put McKenzie McAloon on and it looked like the Tigers might be able to start chipping away at the deficit but Moulson and Nardelli turned a quick 6-4-3 double play that effectively ended Taunton’s momentum.
The reason that Taunton was still in the game was the relief effort from Alexa White. The senior replaced her sister in the circle with two outs in the second and retired the first 11 batters she faced, nine of them by strikeout. She finished with 12 strikeouts in just 5-1/3 innings and allowed only one hit.
“She was amazing, especially considering she hasn’t pitched much in the last month,” said Lewry about White. “She pitched an inning or two here or there, so I really didn’t know what to expect. Today she was right on, kept us in it.”
North did manage a crucial insurance run in the sixth. With one out, Clarkin hit a deep fly ball to left that went off the fielder’s glove. Mandi Hanewich dropped down a sacrifice bunt to move Clarkin to third and then lead off hitter Olivia Capobianco stunned Taunton with a perfect safety squeeze to get the run in.
That run proved to be the game-winner because the potent Taunton offense found its footing against a tiring Erti in the bottom half of the inning.
Abigail McDonough singled to center with one out to start the rally. Aldrich ripped a single up the middle and then both runners read a pitch in the dirt to move into scoring position. McAloon walked to load the bases and then Payton Ceglarski belted a single to right to score a pair.
After a fly ball for the second out, Paige Silvia got her first hit of the game, singling to center to score another two runs and bring the Tigers back within one. Erti managed to escape with the lead, getting a grounder to third to end the threat.
“I think we developed some character tonight,” said Lewry. “We haven’t been in that position this year, we haven’t had to play from behind. I didn’t know how they would react, but they reacted pretty well. We learned that we can come back and we had some kids come through with some big hits tonight.”
Erti made quick work of the seventh, getting the Tigers in order to secure a win that has ramifications in the league title race, in the seeding for the upcoming tournament, and for North Attleboro (15-5, 13-3) confidence as it looks to make a run at bringing home a trophy.
Wallace said, “Part of what made this so important for a lot the kids is that we haven’t done very well against the Kelley-Rex (four of North’s five losses came against teams from the opposite division) and we were wondering, where are we? Now, we showed we can play with anyone.”
Taunton (19-2, 13-2) will now go into Saturday night’s rivalry game with King Philip needing a win to secure the outright league title and also to hang out to one of the top two or three seeds in D1 South.
“It’s a big game tomorrow,” Lewry admitted. “We want to win the Hock outright, so we need to win tomorrow. It’s as simple as that. It’s another big game, we just need to play from inning one not inning four.”
TAUNTON, Mass. – The Taunton softball team has been one of the most lethal and dangerous offenses in the state over the past couple of seasons, and with 165 runs scored this year, they are among the best again this year.
While the Tigers can certainly mash and string together hit after hit, one thing that Taunton is focusing on as the state tournament approaches is cashing in when the opportunity arises.
Taunton turned to small ball on Wednesday night at Jack Tripp Field, scoring the first three runs of the game via squeeze plays, earning a 5-0 win over Franklin in a battle of top teams in the Kelley-Rex.
The win avenges the Tigers’ lone loss, which was to the Panthers back in April, a loss that snapped the defending D1 State Champions’ 28-game win streak.
“It’s something that we’ve used in the past and it depends on the situation and the batters,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry of the small ball approach. “We haven’t been great at bunting this year but we’ve hit so well its kind of been hidden. But tournament time, you have to be able to bunt.”
Taunton scored once in the third inning on a squeeze play and then used back-to-back bunts in the fourth inning to bring in two more runs. Sophomore Kelsey White, who threw a complete game shutout with four hits allowed and eight strikeouts, smashed a two-run home run in the fifth inning for insurance runs.
“Tonight and the other night game against Feehan, a night game between two good teams, a playoff-like atmosphere,” Lewry said. “That’s why we try to have these games towards the end of the year because it helps come tournament time.
“That was a huge win, I thought both teams played very, very well. We have a tough schedule coming up so It’s a lot nicer to have a two-game lead gap than it is to be in a tie, that’s for sure.”
With first place in the Kelley-Rex division up for grabs, both teams had a bit of a nervous start. Franklin’s Ally Shea smacked a single to lead off and Anna Balkus dropped a bunt down to put the first two Panthers on base with no outs. White answered with back-to-back strikeouts and induced a grounder back to the circle for the third out and no damage done.
“We missed our opportunities against an outstanding team, they are a great team without a doubt,” said Franklin coach Kate Fallon-Comeau. We missed our chances, we had a good chance in the first inning getting the first two on, and you can’t do that against a team like that.”
Jaime Brown singled to open for the Tigers and moved to second on a wild pitch but Franklin starter Jackie Cherry (6IP, 7H, 3BB, 5K, 5ER) fanned the next two batters and got a fly ball to center to escape the first.
After a scoreless second, Brown led off the bottom of the third with a walk. Alexa White dropped down a sac bunt and Brown used heads’ up base running to scamper all the way to third. With an emphasis on bringing in the first run, Lewry elected to have sophomore Hanna Aldrich — who leads the league in home runs — drop down a bunt for a squeeze play and Brown sprinted home to make it 1-0.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had Hanna bunt, certainly not this year, I can’t remember before that,” Lewry said. “But you have to get that first run. Hanna is a good bunter too. Payton Cegarlski bunted a few games ago for us. It doesn’t matter who’s at the plate, you have a runner at third with one out or no outs, you have to get in that run.”
Ceglarski drilled a deep single to lead of the fourth and pinch runner Kylie Thorpe moved up to second on a sac bunt from Kelsey White. A wild pitch third strike put runners on the corners and Lewry again called for the squeeze. Eighth-grader Ava Venturelli laid the bunt down and Thorpe was able to score when the ball was mishandled at home.
On the next pitch, Abbie McDonough dropped another bunt and Paige Silvia came sprinting home to make it 3-0. The Tigers loaded the bases but Cherry got a fly ball to center and Balkus gunned a runner at home for a double play to prevent any more runs.
White retired eight straight before Franklin’s Maggie Hobby singled through the left side with two outs in the fifth. After Shea was hit by a pitch, the Panthers had runners on first and second but white got a ground ball to Brown at third for the third out.
In the bottom of the fifth, Aldrich had a leadoff single before Cherry retired the next two batters. After bunting in her previous at-bat, Kelsey White got a hold of a pitch this time and sent it over the center field fence for a two-run home run.
A two-base error was erased by Kelsey White on a fielder’s choice in the sixth, and then she retired the side in order in the seventh, getting the final two outs on strikes.
“Kelsey was amazing tonight, huh?” Lewry said. “She had everything going, the changeup was probably the best she’s had all year and she got a lot of kids with that nice change. She’s been struggling a little at the plate, I told her yesterday I was thinking about flexing for her and she told me she was ready. She got into that pitch though and hit it pretty darn good.”
Taunton softball (10-1 Hockomock, 14-1) takes sole possession of first place with a game in hand. The Tigers return to action on Saturday night against Attleboro at 7:00. Franklin (9-3, 10-4) returns home for a game against Oliver Ames on Friday afternoon.
Fittingly, the Tigers were the last team to win a league game at PAL, back in 2016. Taunton was on the verge of a win last season before a seventh inning rally resulted in a walk-off win.
This time, Taunton jumped ahead early, building a 5-0 lead through three innings and that lead was more than enough for sophomore pitcher Kelsey White (CG, 2H, 4K).
“I thought we played a complete game,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry. “Our pitching was outstanding, Kelsey was really on today. We played good, solid defense, and we hit the ball well, especially early. Hanna [Aldrich] got into a couple, and that’s what you have to do to beat this team. They are solid, they are going to be around come the end of the year.”
Sophomore Hanna Aldrich was the catalyst for the Tiger offense. In her first at-bat, she launched a two-out solo home run over the fence in left field to put the visitors up a run after an inning.
Eighth-grader Ava Venturelli led off the top of the second with a walk for the Tigers and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Alexa White. A double off the wall in right from Paige Silvia put runners on second and third.
Payton Ceglarski brought Venturelli home with a sacrifice fly into right field with Raegan Simeone making a terrific running catch and nearly getting the runner at home with a great throw. Silvia, who moved to third on the sacrifice, came home to score on a passed ball to make it 3-0.
After allowing a two-out single in the bottom of the first inning to KP’s Faith Turinese, Kelsey White retired the side in order in the second, getting a strikeout and two ground balls.
Taunton’s offense was back at it again in the top of the third. Kelsey White reached on a bunt with one out and Aldrich delivered again. This time, Aldrich smashed the second pitch she saw well over the wall in left for a two-run homer and a 5-0 lead on the scoreboard.
“I think it’s every team’s plan, you want to get an early lead and put the pressure on the other team.=,” Lewry said. “For Hanna get that home run in the first inning and give us the lead, and kind of take a little pressure off, that was huge. And then she added another in the third too.”
King Philip’s Grace Kelley reached on an error to start the bottom of the third but White got a pop up to center, erased the lead running with a grounder, and another out to left to prevent any damage.
The sophomore right-hander retired the side in order in the fourth, five, and sixth innings, getting five ground balls for outs.
“That’s the key, you have to play good defense,” Lewry said. “Kelsey was pitching to contact today. She threw a lot of good changes, she got some swings and misses but she got a lot of ground balls which is what we were trying to do in this situation.”
Taunton added some insurance in the top of the sixth inning. Sophomore Tayah DeCosta drew a two-out walk, and courtesy runner Kylie Thorpe advanced to third on a single from Rylie Murphy (Abigail McDonough re-entered to run). Senior Jaime Brown knocked both runners in with a double to left field to increase the score to 7-0.
Taunton softball (2-0 Hockomock, 3-0 overall) is back in action on Friday when it visits Foxboro. King Philip (1-2, 1-2) returns to PAL on Tuesday to host Bishop Feehan.
2018 Record: 9-12 2018 Finish: Reached D1 South Preliminary Round Coach: Mark Homer
After back-to-back playoff appearances, the expectations are high around the Attleboro program this spring. The Bombardiers return eight of nine starters from last year’s team and the lineup should be loaded with good hitters, as well as multiple players who can step into the circle and produce a good start. With the depth on the roster this season, Attleboro will be eyeing another postseason berth.
Senior McKenzie Bergdoll is one of the top power hitters in the league and will be back for another spring in the heart of the Attleboro lineup. She will be joined by classmates Jordyn Lako and Kayla Battisti as starters. Junior Makenzie Killough will be back at shortstop and also batting cleanup and providing protection for Bergdoll in the order. Sophomore Lora Woyton returns behind the plate, sophomore Autumn O’Connell will be in center and batting second and junior Ashley Macia will be out in left. Sophomore Brenna Morse will be taking over in rightfield. In the circle, Attleboro has plenty of depth with juniors Emily and Jenna Gittle and Bergdoll all able to step in. The Bombardiers will try to take advantage of their overall team speed and head coach Mark Homer said there are a few freshmen who may see playing time right away.
“The bar was set high from last season,” said Homer. “So the girls are onboard to perform well again this season with high hopes of competing in every game they play. They have set some goals to achieve one a\t a time. I am cautiously optimistic with our chances of winning more games this season than we have in the past. Knowing that there are no easy games on our schedule so we have to come to play every night.”
2018 Record: 8-13 2018 Finish: Reached D2 South Quarterfinal Coach: Dave Bohane
Canton had quite the turnaround in 2018 under second-year head coach Jennifer Robillard, winning eight games, seven more than in 2017, and making a return to the state tournament. Robillard, last season’s HockomockSports.com Coach of the Year, has moved on to a position at Bentley and football coach Dave Bohane has taken over a team that has seen an influx of young talent and has momentum on its side heading into the spring.
Junior pitcher Caroline Hughes is one of the reasons for optimism in the program, as she is looking to build off a strong sophomore season in which she pitched almost every inning. Hughes was also one of the team’s top hitters and she will be at the heart of the lineup along with sophomore outfielder Liz Bickett, who batted .409 last season. Bickett is just one of several sophomores who the Bulldogs will be counting on, including infielders Olivia Lanci and Sarah Kelly, catchers Steph Trendell and Amanda Vrabel. Junior catcher Jackie Howard and seniors Haley Donovan and Ally Chin will provide leadership for this young group to try and get the Bulldogs right back into the state tournament mix.
“I am very excited to be coaching this team,” said Bohane, who has previously served the program as an assistant coach. “They are extremely hard working and devoted to the program. I think they will set the standard for our future players who come through the program. It’s a very tough league, but we will take it one game at a time and try to improve each game”.
2018 Record: 11-12 2018 Finish: Reached Div. 2 South Quarterfinal Coach: Mark Maguire
Foxboro made a run in the Div. 2 tournament last season, winning a pair of games before being knocked out in the quarterfinals, and the Warriors will hope to build on that exciting finish to 2018 by making a run at the Davenport crown this spring. Even with the loss of catcher Hannah Davis, who was instrumental in the team’s playoff run, Foxboro has a strong returning core and some talented young players stepping in to give head coach Mark Maguire confidence ahead of the new season.
Senior Emma Rohan will be back in the circle for her fourth year as the Foxboro starter and she has the experience of pitching in a number of big games and against the top teams in the league. Senior Cam Willis will play first this season, but can also step in and pitch if needed along with junior Amelia Stowell. The pitchers will have a rookie to throw to, as freshman Allie Willis will be stepping in behind the plate. Sophomore Morgan Sylvestre returns at shortstop after a strong first season on varsity and will be one of the leaders of the infield. Senior Chelsea Gibbons is at third base and freshman Peyton Feldman takes over at second. Sophomore Nicole Theriault will be in centerfield but can play a number of positions, senior Riley Martignetti gives the team pop from the right side of the plate, and senior Jill Finn can play all three outfield positions.
“Preseason is going great as the girls are working very hard to be ready for the season,” said Maguire. “We have a group of girls who work hard. I think team defense should be good with our senior leadership, and the younger players who aggressively look to make plays in the field. I have high expectations for this team, as we look to compete for a Davenport title and gain a state tournament berth.”
2018 Record: 9-11 2018 Finish: Missed Playoffs Coach: Kate Fallon
Franklin has consistently been right behind perennial league leaders Taunton and King Philip in the Kelley-Rex division standings but has narrowly missed out on the playoffs by a single win in each of the past two seasons. This year, the Panthers have eight seniors coming back with the goal of getting the team back into the postseason and use a typically tough schedule to prep for a tournament run.
Pitching will be a strength for the Panthers this year with seniors Jackie Cherry and Emily Valentino giving the team depth and different options in the circle. Throwing strikes will be the key for both and limiting opposition base runners. Behind the plate, Franklin has plenty of experience as well with seniors Ally Shea and Maggie Hobby both capable of stepping in and handling the pitchers as well as providing power at the plate. Senior Tara Hartnett will be back at shortstop and provides strong defense up the middle. Junior Anna Balkus will be in centerfield and will set the table for the offense as the lead-off hitter. Junior Maddy White will be at third base and joins Shea and senior Kylie-Jade Bouzan as the team’s primary run producers.
“We are excited to see the Panther players on the field again,” said Franklin coach Kate Fallon-Comeau. “Overall our tough league and non-league schedule will keep us focused for tournament and we will rely on our solid pitching and defense.”
2018 Record: 21-4 2018 Finish: Reached D1 South Final Coach: Norm Beauchemin
Every season King Philip loses important players and every season the Warriors seem to be right back in the mix for the league title. This spring should be no different. KP will have several important players to replace in the lineup, but it expects to challenge for a 12th title in the past 13 seasons and also make another tournament run, following last year’s South final loss to Kelley-Rex rival Taunton.
Meghan Gorman is the player to watch for the Warriors this season, as the senior shortstop is one of the top defensive players in the state and also the spark plug at the top of the lineup. Senior Faith Turinese will move from the outfield into the circle and will split time with classmate Heather Nix as the top pitchers for the Warriors. Turinese also batted over .400 last year and will be an important bat in the middle of the order. Junior Destiny Goyco will step in behind the plate, after overcoming an injury from basketball season, and fellow junior Liliana Rolfe will take over at third. Grace Kelley will be at second base and Anna Bradley will be at first. The outfield will be filled with speed, including Kara McWhinnie in left, sophomore Paige Berdos in center, and either Ryan Stagg or junior Reaegan Simeone in right.
“One to nine, everyone hits the ball,” said KP coach Norm Beauchemin. “I’m looking forward to another solid season. The league overall is going to be very competitive, so it should be fun.”
2018 Record: 7-13 2018 Finish: Missed Playoffs Coach: Lori Letendre
Mansfield is looking to bounce back from a tough 2018 season in which the Hornets struggled in the Hockomock (going 4-12 in league play) and missed the playoffs. This year, Mansfield hopes for a quick turnaround and return to the state tournament with an experienced roster that brings back 11 players, seven starters, and seven seniors from last season.
The battery of senior pitcher Sarah Cahill and senior catcher Caty DeMassi is back and should give the Hornets a good foundation on which to build on this season. Seniors Megan Letendre and Kara Bendanillo will hold down the left side of the infield and provide pop in the middle of the lineup, while Mady Bendanillo returns in centerfield to give Mansfield a dynamic defensive player and another strong bat. There is an influx of youth as well with two sophomores and a freshman jumping into varsity and having the chance to contribute right away.
“Our goal is to make it back to the tournament this year and with strong leadership from our captains and our seniors, I think we will have a good shot at it!” said Mansfield coach Lori Letendre.
2018 Record: 18-3 2018 Finish: Reached D1 South First Round Coach: Steve DiVitto
The biggest question for Milford is how do the Hawks move on from a group of 10 seniors that won a combined 79 games, four league titles, and the 2017 state championship? Milford has been the team to beat in the Davenport division for six years and a relatively inexperienced group will have to face a season in which the target for every team in the league is squarely on their backs.
Junior Megan Hart is one of the primary options to replace Kelley Reichert in the circle to start the season, with freshman Olivia Morelli showing potential to step in and contribute innings right away. Senior Lucy Creedon can step in at first or in the outfield. Junior April Swain will jump into the outfield along with classmate Taylor Waldrup, while junior Amanda Wenckus can play either position on the left side of the infield and sophomore Carly Ferreira can play either corner infield spot. Sophomore Elise Fauerbach can play behind the plate or in the outfield, while her classmate Natalie Casilli will take an outfield spot. There are a lot of spots to fill this year, but head coach Steve DiVitto is talking about that as an opportunity for a new group of players to step into.
“We understand that lack of experience is something that we will need to combat with, however the bar will continue to be set high!” DiVitto said. “Each year a new page is turned over, and as always the focus is: what’s your legacy going to be? Keeping our awesome team chemistry will be an important part of this season. We’re excited for the challenges of playing in the best league in the state!”
2018 Record: 16-5 2018 Finish: Reached D1 South First Round Coach: Bill Wallace
Two seasons ago, North Attleboro was a young team that made a surprise trip to the South semifinal, but this year the Rocketeers will have much higher expectations. North is now the experienced team in the Davenport division and has aspirations of unseating Milford and winning a first league title since 1990 and adding to the league’s recent history of strong tournament performances with another deep run.
Junior pitcher Bella Erti will be one of the league’s top pitchers again this season, after a 15-5 sophomore season in which she struck out 137 batters. She also hit .357. Junior Ashley Cangiano is also back for her third year as a starter and is one of the top catchers in the league. Abby Gallagher returns to the North outfield after hitting .500 last season as a sophomore and senior Olivia Capobianco will be back in centerfield and the middle of the North lineup. Freshman Mandi Hanewich and sophomores Emma Bailey and Belle Clarkin will compete for the third outfield spot after impressive preseasons. Senior Katie Daby is at first, while sophomore Emily Nardelli moves from shortstop to second base. Junior Alex Moulson takes over at short and her classmate Annabelle Hebard will be at third. Emily Bedard and Makenzie Nardelli add to North’s infield depth and Alivia Byrne will give Erti a rest in the circle and is another big bat in the lineup.
“We will need to be more multi-dimensional, as late in the year we couldn’t sustain our offensive start to the season,” said North coach Bill Wallace. “This group really wants to make their mark on the league and they know how much work that is going to take.”
Last season was a struggle for the Tigers, with only three wins and head coach Lindsey Allison is hoping that a group of younger players can add to the returning core and make a push to get Oliver Ames back into the state tournament. Allison is confident that the offense will get into the swing of things for the Tigers after scoring only 66 runs last season, second-lowest in the league.
Senior Kayla Georgeu will be back in the circle for OA and in the heart of the lineup. The Tigers will count on sophomore Emma Varella to provide some innings at pitcher, as well as playing in the infield. Senior first baseman Katie Mills is a big bat for the Tigers and junior Katie Abreu can step in at either shortstop or centerfield depending on the game to provide vocal leadership. Sophomore Grace Simone will be behind the plate this season.
“Every spot is open for the taking and there are many young players who are hungry to be on the field,” said Allison. “This group of players seem like a team – not just a group of individuals. They compete with one another for positions, but also support each other. They hold each other accountable and communicate. I am excited to see what hard work can accomplish this season.”
It was definitely a rough debut season for Sharon coach Heather Poliferno, but it was also a chance for a number of young players to get experience at the varsity level. This spring, there is renewed enthusiasm with a crop of underclassmen joining the experienced players to give Poliferno and the Eagles confidence for a much better spring.
Freshman Trinity Payne is the player to watch for the Eagles this season as she takes over as the starting pitcher and has already drawn the attention of coaches in the Davenport division. She will be used at a couple of different positions and gives the Eagles versatility in the lineup. Senior Alli Small will be back at shortstop this season, while classmate Jody Goldenberg is back at first, and senior Rebecca Clayman will be the leader of the outfield group. As the program is growing, Sharon is hoping for much different results this season.
“We are very excited for this season!” said Poliferno. “We have many returning players leading our varsity team, as well as the addition of a very talented freshman class. Though we have only had a handful of practices, one of our clear strengths is our desire to be the best on the field.”
2018 Record: 7-13 2018 Finish: Missed Playoffs Coach: Deb Parker
Stoughton struggled to find a groove in 2018 and ended up missing the playoffs under first-year head coach Deb Parker, who had made the switch from Sharon before last season. This year, the Black Knights bring back starters in key positions and once again have the potential to make a run at a state tournament berth and even challenge for the Davenport title.
Seniors Nikki Coppola (second base) and Jordan Lyons (shortstop) give Stoughton a strong combination up the middle and senior Karly Estremera brings plenty of experience at third base. Sophomore pitcher Nicole Baker will take over full-time in the circle this season and Parker is impressed by the work that she put in during the off-season to get ready. Baker will be throwing to an experienced catcher, as senior Brianna Ferrandiz is back behind the plate for the Black Knights. Junior Lexi Baptista will lead the outfield crew in center and could also be one of Stoughton’s top hitters this season. Freshmen Melody Casna and Sydney Menz will give the Black Knights versatility by playing multiple positions.
“This team has come together so quickly, it is a real tribute to the leadership of our captains,” said Parker. “This team knows what they are playing for this year and we have high expectations going into the season. Softball in the Hockomock League is incredibly competitive but if we continue to work hard, we should have a great season.”
2018 Record: 26-2 2018 Finish: Won D1 State Championship Coach: Dave Lewry
How do you follow up a state championship? For Taunton, it just may be to make a run at a repeat. The Tigers lost the second, third, and fourth hitters in the lineup (including league MVP and HockomockSports.com Player of the Year Kya Enos), who combined for 88 RBI, but there is a ton of talent coming back from last season, all of whom contributed at one point or another during Taunton’s run to the title.
It starts in the circle where sophomore Kelsey White will be the starter again this season after going 16-2 as a freshman and pitching every inning during the playoff run (not to mention batting .418). Her sister Alexa will also see time at pitcher, along with freshman Olyvia Mendonca, but will also play most of the season in centerfield. The infield will be a strength for the Tigers, with all four players back. Senior Jaime Brown (batted .469) is back for her fifth year at third base and is one of the top hitters in the league, sophomore Hanna Aldrich (.385 average with four homers and 30 RBI) is in her third year at shortstop and was this site’s Underclassman of the Year in 2018, sophomore McKenzie McAloon returns at second base for her third season, and junior Paige Silvia is back at first. Silvia and junior Riley Murphy are also in the running to replace Enos behind the plate, while junior Abbie McDonough takes over in left and eighth-grader Ava Venturelli could start the season in right.
“While we lost three outstanding players to graduation, I am excited about the potential of this year’s team,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry. “We have a good nucleus of returning players looking to defend our D1 state championship.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.”
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.