FRANKLIN, Mass. – Both teams had already qualified for the postseason and Sunday morning’s matchup felt like preparation for the upcoming state tournament. It was a game in which both teams battled back multiple times and both learned what they will need to work on to make a playoff run.
In the end, Franklin made enough plays to pull out a 7-6 victory over Attleboro. Senior Emily Valentino came off the bench to pitch 2-1/3 innings of scoreless relief and drove in the game-tying run with a fifth inning single.
“Emily Valentino came in and kind of slammed the doors, so to speak,” said Franklin coach Kate Fallon. “She did a nice job out there.”
She also praised the Bombardiers for being aggressive and putting pressure on the Panthers. Fallon said, “They put a lot of pressure on us today. They came here swinging and trying to take some names. They put up a nice performance against us today and redeemed themselves from the first game (a 14-0 Franklin win).”
Attleboro was playing its third game in the span of 24 hours. The Bombardiers completed a rain delayed game with Taunton on Saturday morning and then drove 90 minutes to play Marblehead. Attleboro beat the Magicians to qualify for the tournament and carried that momentum to Franklin.
“They could’ve laid down coming into this one but they didn’t,” said Attleboro coach Mark Homer about his team’s attitude on Sunday morning. “We’ve had some pretty bad injuries, so we had three freshmen out there today. They’ve been doing a good job up and down the lineup.”
Meghan Gordon led off with a single to right, followed by a swinging bunt from Lindsey Perry that turned into an infield hit. After a groundout moved both runners into scoring position, Lora Woynton brought in a run with a deep sac fly to center and Natalie Mansur singled to left and drove in a second.
The Panthers cut the lead in half in the bottom of the first. A one-out triple by Gabby Colace was followed by a sac fly to left by Ally Shea. Gordon made a nice running grab for the out, sliding past the foul line, but it allowed Colace to come home without a throw.
There were no clean innings on Sunday. Even scoreless frames included at least one base runner. Franklin starter Jackie Cherry pitched out of trouble in the second and third innings to keep the Panthers within one. Colace turned a double play when she snagged a line drive at second and tagged the runner to end the third.
Franklin grabbed its first lead in the bottom of the third. Anna Balkus bunted her way on to lead off and stole second. A passed ball moved her to third and Colace reached when her bunt was unable to be fielded cleanly. An error brought in the first run of the third to tie it and Maddy White lined a single to put Franklin in front. Sarah Jackson added a third run with an RBI-groundout.
Attleboro starter Jenna Gittle managed to limit the damage with a strikeout and a pop up to first, but the Panthers were up 4-2.
The lead was short-lived. The Bombardiers rallied for three runs in the fourth. Autumn O’Connell got it started with a single and, after Cherry retired the next two batters, Perry drew a two-out walk to keep the inning alive for power hitter McKenzie Bergdoll. She crushed a three-run homer over the fence in left-center to put the visitors back on top.
“That’s what McKenzie Bergdoll’s got to do,” said Homer. “That’s her job. She’s one of the better hitters in the league, she’s a power hitter, but it’s also the set up before that getting people on base. We weren’t doing that earlier in the season.”
In the bottom half of the inning, Franklin bounced back again to tie it. Maggie Hobby walked and advanced to third after a pair of passed balls. Balkus hit a sharp grounder to short but the throw to the plate was not in time and the game was evened up at 5-5.
The back-and-forth game continued to ebb and flow with the Bombardiers grabbing the edge in the fifth. Colace threw ahead of the lead runner to get a big second out for the Panthers and it looked like they may escape the jam but Hailey Perry singled to right to bring in Kayla Battisti. Valentino came in with runners at second and third and got a strikeout to get out of the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, Valentino helped her own cause. With one out, he dropped a single into right that scored White to tie the game again. Battisti kept the game tied when she was able to field a Hobby bunt and flip to Woynton at the plate to cut down the potential go-ahead run. Gittle got a big break when Balkus’ two-out single to left, which scored two runs, was nullified by the home plate ump saying she stepped out of the box as she hit it.
Valentino managed to get out of a jam in the sixth and Franklin scored the eventual game-winner in the bottom half. Battisti made another play at third to get a runner at the plate, but with two outs a grounder was mishandled and the go-ahead run scampered home.
After an error put the lead runner on in the seventh and a sacrifice bunt moved the runner into scoring position, Valentino got a pop up to Hobby behind the plate and then a fly ball to herself in the circle to close out the win.
“We came out on top,” said Fallon. “We pulled it together and we also learned a few things that we need to clean up, to work on heading into the tournament.”
Despite the loss, Homer was also positive about his team’s performance. He explained, “This was a great game for us, in this part of the season, because they battled all week. It would’ve been great to win, it always is, but I like where we’re at right now. For us to go to the distance and battle them right to the end, I’m okay with that because we’ll probably meet one of those six other [Hockomock League] teams in the tournament.”
Franklin (13-5, 12-3) has two more games this week to prepare for the tournament, starting with Canton on Tuesday. Attleboro (9-10, 8-7) will close out the regular season on Tuesday against North Attleboro.