TAUNTON, Mass. – Prior to Monday night’s showdown with fellow unbeaten King Philip, Taunton held a ceremony to honor its seniors. Once the game started, those seniors stepped up again, as they have all season, to lift the Tigers in a big game.
McKenzie McAloon and Hanna Aldrich each hit home runs and Kelsey White tossed a shutout with 13 strikeouts, powering Taunton to a 4-0 win that leaves the Tigers needing just one win over their final two games (including a rematch with KP) to win at least a share of the league title.
“Missing last year was obviously huge for them in their leadership development because they were always the younger kids who produced physically but didn’t have to be verbal,” said first-year Taunton coach Carrie Consalvi. “This year they’ve had to step into a big role. Not only do you have to produce but you also have to take care of everybody else and you have to pick up those younger kids.”
It didn’t take Taunton long to get its bats going. In the bottom of the first, Kyleagh Plumb beat out a bunt single. KP starter Jordan Bennett was able to retire Aldrich on a pop up that was chased down by catcher Sarah Cullen, but with two outs McAloon picked up her team by crushing a two-run blast to right center.
Aldrich said, “It takes a big relief off everything. You’re never down because you got out because she’s always there to pick you back up.”
The score stayed the same until the third inning. Angie Lynch lined a one-put single to center. KP third baseman Maddie Paschke made a nice sliding grab on a Plumb bunt that was popped up short of the circle. Again Taunton was able to strike with two outs. Aldrich hit a screaming line drive into the trees beyond the left field fence.
It was Aldrich’s 11th homer in just 12 games this season, breaking the program’s single-season record despite playing a shortened season.
“It’s crazy,” said Aldrich. “I just didn’t expect it. I’ve been working so hard to just hit line drives and it’s just kind of happening, but it’s pretty cool. It was a lot of self-pressure after 10. It was just one more but it took a lot of relaxing of the nerves to just do it.”
Consalvi said, “I was so proud of her. That was awesome. She’s been teetering for the last couple games. I felt like tonight when that happened you could see the weight come off of her chest.”
McAloon followed the homer by getting hit and White added a single to center to put two runners on but Bennett managed induced a fly ball to right to get out of the jam. The freshman wouldn’t give up another hit and allowed only two base runners over the final three innings.
Although the Warriors have a young roster with limited experience playing in big games like Monday, they showed no fear going up against the Tigers and flashed the leather to limit Taunton’s offense.
Anna Bradley made a diving stop at first to end the first, Paschke made a couple of nice stops at third, and Mia Bennett (in for the injured Libby Walsh) made a nice snare of a line drive to end the fifth.
“We made some phenomenal plays in the field,” said KP coach Kate Fallon-Comeau. “We made all the routine stuff. Defensively we showed up and played great. I just knew we were going to struggle at the plate not having seen this caliber of pitcher all season long. It’s very hard to prepare for that.”
The problem for KP was trying to manufacture runs against White, who has allowed only two runs all season. White struck out at least one in every inning and struck out the side twice. After Cullen sliced a double into left field to lead off the second, White struck out the next three hitters to escape the jam. In the third, a two-out error put a runner on second but White got a third strikeout in the inning to end the frame.
Once Taunton jumped up by four runs, things got very difficult for KP to try and put together a comeback. A two-out infield single by Meg Sherwood was canceled by a strikeout, she punched out two more in the fifth, and got a pop up to the catcher, a fly ball into the circle and her 12th strikeout of the night.
“Kelsey is our cornerstone,” said Consalvi. “She is a consistent leader and workhorse out there. She was dominant on the mound for and us and I don’t think there’s any other way for her to be. She’s super important for us going forward and I know she’ll be there for us.”
In the seventh, White got some help from her defense. Kylie Thorpe stayed with a hard hit ball that went off the end of White’s glove for a rare 1-4-3 putout. With two down, Thorpe went a long way to chase down a flyball behind first, making a sliding catch in foul ground just before the fence.
“Two long balls kind of put the nail in the coffin,” said Fallon-Comeau. “It’s hard enough to come back from 2-0 with Kelsey on the mound. She’s very, very good.”
When asked about the importance of being able to count on her classmates this season, Aldrich explained, “Growing up together we just have the confidence that we know, if we don’t get it done then the person behind us will get done and all through the lineup we have a lot of confidence in our teammates.”