By Joe Clark, HockomockSports.com Contributor
FRANKLIN, Mass. — In a preliminary round matchup in MIAA Division One South tournament the 11th-seeded Franklin softball team played a near-flawless game, shutting out #22 Wellesley with a convincing 11-0 win.
After allowing a one-out single in the top of the first inning, Panther starter Jackie Cherry (4.1 IP, 1H, 5K) was lights out and didn’t allow another Raider hit while she was in the game.
Franklin struck again in the bottom of the third, this time for five runs as it sent nine batters to the plate. Ally Shea led off with a single and Balkus followed with a base hit. Maddy White grounded into a fielder’s choice, but with runners on first and first, Gabby Colace came through with an RBI single and Tara Hartnett did the same in Franklin’s next at-bat.
Cherry helped her own cause with a two-run single to center to put the Panthers up 5-0. Kylie Bouzan reached on an infield single, but the late throw to first was high, which allowed Cherry, who advanced to third on the single, to score.
“Attack…if you see a good pitch, hit it,” said Franklin manager Kate Fallon-Comeau on her team’s strategy at the plate.
In the bottom of the fourth, Franklin once again sent nine batters to the plate and scored another five runs. The script was similar to the prior inning, as both Shea and Balkus reached on singles, and White came through with a single. A throwing error scored Shea, and Jackson got her second RBI of the night as she singled to score Balkus. Colace brought home White with another single, and Cherry picked up her third and fourth RBI with another base hit.
Franklin wasn’t done hitting yet, however, as in the bottom of the fifth, Shea singled for Franklin, her third hit of the game, and also the 100th of her illustrious career at Franklin.
Cherry was replaced in the top of the fifth for Emily Valentino, who retired eight of the nine batters she faced in relief, with the lone hit being a single by MacKenzie O’Neil in the top of the sixth. Cherry and Valentino combined to allow just two hits while striking out eight.
“Both Jackie and Emily had a good day on the mound, Jackie kind of settled in after the first inning, really shut them down and Emily came right in and picked up where Jackie left off so it was nice to see,” Fallon-Comeau said about Franklin’s pitching performance.
With the win, Franklin moves on to face #6 Braintree. That game will be played at 3:30 in Braintree on Saturday.
“We just have to do what we’ve been doing all season long, one at-bat at a time, one inning at a time, and hopefully at the end of seven, we come out on top,” Fallon-Comeau said about Franklin’s approach against the Wamps.
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.
FRANKLIN, Mass. – Franklin came into Monday’s Memorial Day matinee with North Attleboro needing a victory keep alive hopes of reaching the postseason. After punching in a run in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings, throwing a runner out at the plate to stay tied in the ninth, and escaping a bases loaded jam in the top half of the 10th, the Panthers were just 60 feet from the win.
Senior Meghan Caron, the lone Panther player celebrating senior night before the first pitch, stood at the plate with Tara Hartnett poised at third. Caron hit a chopper towards the left side of the infield and North shortstop Emily Nardelli had to come home with it, but Hartnett was off on contact and slid in ahead of the throw.
Franklin pulled out a 4-3 victory that split the season series against the Rocketeers and also sends the Panthers into the season finale knowing that a win will clinch a spot in the state tournament.
“I’m so pumped for her,” Franklin coach Kate Fallon-Comeau said of Caron. “They call her ‘Meg Money’ because she was so clutch when she was younger, growing up, and I’m just glad she was the one that was clutch today.”
It was a back-and-forth game from the start. The Panthers took the lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an unearned run. Allie Shea (3-for-5) got it started with a single to left and Anna Balkus beat out a bunt single. Nardelli made a diving stab of a Maddy White grounder up the middle to get a force at second but a bobble on a grounder off the bat of Hartnett brought Shea home.
North took its lone lead of the game in the third inning. Olivia Capobianco singled with one out and stole second. Abby Gallagher followed with a walk and then Ashley Cangiano lined a double into right center than scored one. North coach Bill Wallace held up Gallagher, as the Franklin relay got the ball in quickly, but Bella Erti helped her own cause with a single that drove in both runners for a 3-1 advantage.
Franklin cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning. Balkus and White singled to start the inning and, after a force at third to get the lead runner, Hartnett singled to right to drive in White and make it 3-2.
After the third both pitchers settled into their starts. Erti retired 12 straight Franklin hitters from the third to the seventh inning and finished the game with eight strikeouts. Cherry kept the Rocketeers off-balance, moving the ball around and although she walked eight hitters, she also struck out 15 and didn’t allow a run over the final seven innings.
“She settled in nicely,” Fallon-Comeau said of her starter. “She found the pitch that worked for her and, you know, she just pounded parts of the zone that they didn’t seem to be hitting hard.”
North had its chances to extend the lead, stranding a pair of runners in the fourth and one each in the fifth, sixth, and seventh. “We did [get the hits] early to go up 3-1,” Wallace said, “but then we had runners in scoring position all day but we left a small village on base.”
The inability to tack on insurance runs came back to haunt the Rocketeers in the seventh. A one-out walk to the nine-hitter Gabby Colace got the rally started. Shea followed with a single to left and both moved up into scoring position on a groundout to first by Balkus. White hit a bouncer to short that Nardelli bobbled for a split second before firing to first. It was a bang-bang play at the bag and White was ruled safe, allowing the tying run to score.
“It’s either now or never, so get it done. If you want your season to continue then you need to get a run here, two would be nice,” said Fallon-Comeau of her message to the team before the seventh. She added, “They’ve been that way all season. They don’t get down. They really rise up for the competition.”
North nearly broke the deadlock in the ninth. A one-out walk to Gallagher was followed by a blast to center by Cangiano that one-hopped the fence. This time, Wallace elected to send the runner, but the relay from Balkus to Hartnett to catcher Maggie Hobby was perfectly executed to cut down the go-ahead run at the plate.
Fallon-Comeau explained, “I can’t tell you how many balls we’ve hit off the fence and say okay get the fastest kid in our program out at home. We do it all the time because it comes down to get the ball and perfect throw and perfect throw. If you don’t have that, then it’s a run.”
Franklin put two on in the ninth as well, with one-out singles by Shea and Balkus but Erti got a pop on the infield and a strikeout to end the threat.
“She grinded and that’s typical of her that she gets better as the game goes on,” Wallace said of Erti. “She’s not the least bit tired right now. In her eyes, she’d rather be out there throwing two, three more innings.”
The Rocketeers threatened again in the 10th. Katherine Munley drew a walk and with two outs Andrea Miceli lined a single to left. After Abby Warren drew a walk, the bases were loaded but Cherry was able to bear down and struck out Capobianco to keep the game tied.
“Little things win games like that and we didn’t do enough of the little things to win,” said Wallace, who added that this was good preparation for his team before the tournament. “We’ve got to do a better job situationally hitting, things like that, and these are things we can point out at practice.”
In the bottom of the inning, Hartnett singled to start the inning and moved up to second on a wild pitch. She failed to move up a base on a hard grounder to the right side by Kylie-Jade Bouzan but went to third on a second wild pitch. That gave Caron the chance to be the hero on senior night.
“We did it. I don’t know how we did it, but we did it,” said Fallon-Comeau. “Bill and I, since probably back when I was in high school because he was the coach when I played, have always had these barnburner games. It goes back-and-forth, back-and-forth all the time and I’m just glad it swung back in our direction this time because we needed it.”
Franklin (9-10, 8-8) will have one last game against Bridgewater-Raynham on Wednesday night. If the Panthers win, then they are in the playoffs. North Attleboro (15-3, 11-3) will face Davenport division champ Milford on Thursday.