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.