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.”