Milford Rallies in Final and Returns to Softball Summit

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Milford softball players get set to celebrate with the Div. 1 state championship trophy after beating Wachusett at Worcester State. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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WORCESTER, Mass. – While the Hawks had not trailed at all in their playoff run and rarely trailed over the course of the season, Milford coach Steve DiVitto insisted after each game that his team knew how to bounce back and overcome a deficit to win.

Milford (25-1) waited until the final game of the season to prove him right.

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Despite falling behind by three runs in the second inning of Saturday evening’s Div. 1 state championship game at Worcester State University’s Rockwood Field, the Hawks’ confidence never wavered. Senior pitcher Ali Atherton retired 16 of the final 19 batters she faced and the prolific Milford offense found its swing to pull out a 7-3 victory and earn the program’s first state title since winning the second of two straight titles 2013.

“They came out early and threw the first knockout blow,” said DiVitto, “and we responded and that’s what championship teams do. In big spots and big moments, you respond.”

He added, “You’ve got to be able to ride those peaks and valleys as this game goes on and they did just that and we’re back on top.”

Atherton said, “After the second inning, I said that I really didn’t want to lose my last game wearing a Milford uniform, so that’s what pushed me through the last innings. I didn’t want to lose my last game at Milford High.”

Milford had gone 15 innings without allowing a run (since the seventh inning of the South semifinal against Hopkinton) before the Mountaineers came to bat in the top of the second. The Central champions, making their first state title game appearance, seemed to figure out Atherton.

A single and an error put the first two hitters in scoring position and senior catcher Lizzie Miles drove a single to right that scored both runs. Kiana Lloyd followed with a hit to left, but Maggie Farrell fired to the plate and Emily Hartman just hung on to cut down Miles trying to score. Lloyd moved up to second on the throw and then to third on a wild pitch before scoring on a Paige Arvidson infield single.

Atherton explained, “In the second inning, they adjusted. They were crowding the plate and hitting my curve ball so hard. That hadn’t happened to me all season, but I realized I needed our catcher to set up more outside and my curveballs were more effective off the plate.”

Milford bounced right back in the bottom half of the inning. Hartman was hit by a pitch to lead-off and Kelley Reichert beat out an infield single. With one out, Shannon Cormier reached on an error to load the bases for Kate Irwin and the energetic centerfielder got the Milford bench going with an infield hit to score one. Hockomock League MVP Emily Piergustavo drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and the lead was down to one.

DiVitto said, “We told the girls, let’s not panic, let’s stay within ourselves and play our game. We know what we’re capable of doing, we’ve done it for 25 straight games, and they’re just a team that competes.”

Atherton allowed only two Wachusett hits over the final five innings, as she started to look more like the pitcher that had thrown back-to-back shutouts to reach the final.

When asked about Atherton’s performance in the final, DiVitto said, “Today? How about Ali for the last six games of the playoffs? She has been outstanding. She has been a rock.”

“Once probably the fourth inning came, I felt like I was in a groove but I had to stay up and stay focused,” Atherton explained. “I knew that the mentally strong pitcher was going to come out on top today, so I had to stay grounded.”

In the bottom of the fourth, Milford took the lead. Cormier worked a one-out walk and two batters later Piergustavo drove a ball that one-hopped the centerfield fence for a game-tying double. Farrell, another of the team’s three seniors, followed with a single that plated Piergustavo with what turned out to be the game-winning run.

“Our mentality was to bounce back,” said Piergustavo of the comeback. “If you get punched, then punch back harder. There’s no better feeling than the way we came back.”

Wachusett tried to put together a rally of its own in the sixth inning. Brigid Griffin singled to left just past the dive of Piergustavo, but was forced out at second on Courtney Lanpher’s grounder. Lanpher then went first-to-third on a grounder back to the pitcher to put the tying run only 60 feet away with two outs.

A fly ball to Cormier in right ended the threat and allowed Milford to breathe a sigh of relief. In the bottom half of the inning, the Hawks broke the game wide open and calmed nerves both on the field and in the bleachers.

Cormier, Irwin, and Piergustavo each singled to start the sixth and load the bases. Farrell drove in her second run with a sac fly to left and junior Jess Tomaso brought in another with a single to right. Senior Kaitlyn DeCapua made it 7-3 with another sac fly and the trophy felt like it was in Milford’s grasp.

A comebacker to Atherton and a leaping grab on a line drive by Cormier put the Hawks on the brink and fittingly it was DeCapua who would record the final out, pulling in a foul pop fly to seal the championship that she and the other seniors had been dreaming about for four years.

“I knew one day we’d make it here,” DeCapua said. “I remember being a seventh and eighth grader watching the state championship and I just knew one day I’d be here. It’s amazing; words can’t describe it.”

Piergustavo, whose sister Allie was a starter on the 2013 championship team, added, “It’s amazing. We had wristbands that said ‘Rise Together’ and we rose together to win this championship. There’s no better feeling right now. Words can’t describe how proud I am of this team.”

The seniors were not the only newcomers to the team four years ago. DiVitto also took over as the new head coach that spring and immediately had to answer questions about how to replace a class that won three state titles. He had his answer on Saturday.

“Four years ago, this journey started with these four seniors,” DiVitto remarked, “and four years ago it was the question of where is this program going to go because of the great graduating class in 2013 and how are you going to replace all of them?

“Take a look at the scoreboard and that’s how you replace them; by a team that sticks together, by a team that believes in each other and that’s what it’s all about.”

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Milford Beats Newton North to Advance to State Final

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Milford’s Ali Atherton tosses a pitch in the first inning against Newton North. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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TAUNTON, Mass. – On Saturday afternoon, Milford played a near perfect game to hand Silver Lake its first loss of the season and win the Div. 1 South title. On Tuesday night in the state semifinal, back at Taunton High’s Jack Tripp Field, the Hawks showed that even when not at their best, they have enough grit to come out on top.

Despite Newton North putting runners in scoring position in five of the seven innings, Milford escaped unscathed each time and scored a pair of unearned runs to grind out a 3-0 victory and advance to the state championship game for the first time since winning the Div. 1 title four years ago.

“It’s great to know that maybe the bats aren’t at their best and our defense at times wasn’t at its best and Ali [Atherton] in a couple of innings maybe wasn’t at her best, but when push came to shove, man did they step up,” said Milford coach Steve DiVitto, who joined the program along with this senior class and will be making his first state final appearance this weekend.

Atherton, the senior pitcher, tossed a one-hitter in the South final against the Lakers, but the Tigers beat that total in the top of the first. With runners at second and third and two outs, Atherton struck out her opposite number Madison Schaefer to get out of the jam.

The Hawks took the lead in their first at-bats. Emily Piergustavo drew a one-out walk, followed by a Maggie Farrell single to right. Jess Tomaso lined a single to right that brought in the opening run and moved Farrell to third. Schaefer avoided a big inning by getting a bouncing ball right back to her and a strikeout to end the threat.

The Tigers put the lead-off runner on in the second on a rare Milford error. After a strikeout and a sliding catch by centerfielder Kate Irwin on a sinking line drive, the Tigers loaded the bases with back-to-back singles. Again, Atherton was able to bear down and get a fly ball to end the inning.

Milford doubled its lead in the bottom of the second. Maddy Bonvino drew a one-out walk and, after a fly ball out, stole second to get into scoring position for Irwin. The junior lead-off hitter singled to center and the ball bounced by the fielder to allow Bonvino to score easily.

“It’s nice to be in the lead,” DiVitto said. “It’s better than the other way around because the nerves settled in a little bit and it was big for our girls to get those runs early. But, we’ve been behind a couple times this year and been able to battle back, so ahead, behind, they just have a great mindset.”

Atherton settled down with the lead and allowed only one hit over the next three innings. The Hawks added a crucial insurance run in the fifth. Irwin reached on an error and stole second. Piergustavo popped it up in foul territory near the Tigers bench and, after making the grab, the first baseman attempted to pick off Irwin at second, but the throw got away.

Irwin flew home with the third run and her energy fired up both her teammates and the traveling Milford support in the bleachers.

“She was huge for us tonight,” said DiVitto of Irwin. “That play at second base, we work on that all year. Take a couple jab steps and force a throw and she forced a throw and that’s a huge insurance run going into the seventh inning; 3-0 is a big change from two.”

Holding a three-run lead in the seventh, Milford had one foot in the state final, but the Tigers would not go quietly.

With one out, Holly Chin singled and an error brought the tying run to the plate. Atherton reached back for a little extra to get a strikeout, but then walked the next hitter to load the bases and bring a potential go-ahead run up to bat. With the Tigers faithful as loud as they had been all night, Atherton induced a comebacker to put an end to the rally.

When asked what he was thinking as the Tigers loaded the bases, DiVitto responded, “Ali was going to find a way to get three outs. I have a lot of confidence in her. Four years of her in the circle, she is a warrior and she has been for four years.”

He added, “That’s what a winner does. That’s what a girl who’s got guts does. [Ali] was great on Saturday, no girls on base, she was cruising. Tonight she ran into a little trouble but the same demeanor on the mound. She was locked in.”

The Hawks have had a target on their backs since the beginning of the season, as they entered as heavy favorites in the Davenport division and as one of the favorites in Div. 1 South. DiVitto tried to explain what carried the Hawks to this point.

He said, “These girls play for each other and they’re excited for each other. Whenever anything happens with their teammates, they’re excited for them. A girl could go 0-for-4 but still be excited we won and that’s big.”

Milford (24-1), riding a 24-game win streak, will face Central champion Wachusett on Saturday at Worcester State University (time to be determined).

Atherton Tosses Gem, Milford Wins South Title

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Milford celebrates with the Div. 1 South championship trophy following a 4-0 win over top seed Silver Lake at Taunton’s Jack Tripp Field. (Josh Perry/HockomockSports.com)

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TAUNTON, Mass. – In each of the past two seasons, Milford and Silver Lake have met in the Div. 1 South quarterfinal and each time the Lakers had come out on top. On Saturday afternoon, the two teams met again, but this time the sectional’s top two seeds faced off at Taunton High’s sun-drenched Jack Tripp Field with the South title on the line.

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For the Milford seniors, whose careers began just a year after the program won the second of back-to-back state titles, this was not just a chance to get revenge on the Lakers, but also an opportunity to add to the program’s legacy of success.

It was an opportunity that those seniors would not let slip away.

Ali Atherton tossed a one-hitter against the potent Silver Lake lineup, which had put up 18 runs in two other games against Hock opponents in the tournament; Maggie Farrell went 3-for-4 and drove in what turned out to be the game winning runs with a third inning double; and Kaitlyn DeCapua went 2-for-4 with an RBI, as the Hawks beat previously unbeaten Silver Lake 4-0 to clinch their second South title.

“That’s what seniors do,” said Milford coach Steve DiVitto. “They were just outstanding today. On the bus it was crickets on the way here, that was the focus and that’s how they’ve been all year.”

He added, “Ever since we lost here in early April (in the season-opener against Taunton), they’ve been on a mission and they’re not going to let anything get in their way.”

Atherton, the Southern New Hampshire-bound pitcher, stepped into the circle as a freshman with the unenviable task of following arguably the best pitcher in state history, Shannon Smith. Four years later and facing the biggest game of her career, Atherton rose to the occasion and matched one of Smith’s achievements by tossing a shutout in the South final.

“Obviously not her greatest outing the other night (against Hopkinton),” said DiVitto, “and she comes out here today and [has] probably one of her better outings she’s had in her four years. What a great job by her today.”

Atherton held the Lakers hitless through 4-1/3 innings, allowed only one infield single, one walk, and just two balls out of the infield. Considering the stage and the lineup that she was facing, it could could be argues this was the best pitching performance of her career.

“On the bus, I was thinking about how I was going to pitch these girls,” Atherton explained. “I’ve faced them so many times, I know how they’re going to hit. I know what they want to do with the ball, so I know where I want to put my pitches.”

She continued, “The outside low corner was crucial for me today, especially against the top of the order. They want to pull the ball, they want the ball inside, so I didn’t throw much inside. My catcher (Emily Hartman) and I were working all game and I knew I wanted to stay low today.”

The Hawks also needed to flash the leather behind Atherton, who remarkably finished her one-hitter with no strikeouts. Maddy Bonvino got it started with a leaping grab of a liner in the second inning to rob Anna Battista of a hit and in the fourth Farrell came charging in to make a shoestring grab on a sinking line drive off the bat of Kelly Danahy.

“Our defense has been rock solid all year long,” said DiVitto, “and today was just an example of that and Ali having the confidence in the girls behind her to be able to throw strikes.”

Milford had a base hit in each of its first two at-bats but Silver Lake pitcher Jillian Richards also looked sharp, using her off-speed pitches to keep the Hawks guessing. That changed in the third.

Shannon Cormier started the inning with a single to second and moved up a base on a wild pitch. Kate Irwin followed by beating out an infield single. A grounder to first moved both runners up into scoring position for Farrell, who got the pitch she was waiting for and drilled a double into the gap in left center.

“It was just like the perfect pitch, right where I wanted it and I knew I had to go for that one,” Farrell said. “As long as we just kept our head on it then she was right down the middle.”

With two outs, DeCapua singled up the middle to bring Farrell around with the third run and the Hawks had momentum and budding confidence.

Farrell said, “We knew we had to jump on them early and keep going throughout the game. Once we got those three runs, we weren’t done. We had to keep pushing and keep trying to get more runs.”

Milford had the chance to tack on runs in the fifth when Farrell singled with two outs and Jess Tomaso reached on an error, but Richards got a ground out to end the inning. In the bottom half, Battista reached on a grounder that was knocked down by Bonvino for the Lakers first hit, but Atherton got back-to-back grounders to end any threat.

In the sixth, the Hawks added an insurance run. Kelley Reichert and Bonvino each singled with one out and Cormier drew a walk to load the bases. Irwin blooped a ball in between the left field and shortstop to make it 4-0.

DiVitto said, “We’re a complete, total team effort and you could see that one through nine in our lineup today, girls making it happen in the lower part of the lineup getting things going for us. It’s a team effort…and it’s a great team win.”

Milford could not break the game open, as Richards got out of the jam without allowing another run. A two-out walk to Danahy in the bottom of the sixth put a little pressure on Atherton, but she got Caroline Videtto to ground out to second leaving power hitter Emily Critch waiting in the on-deck circle.

The Lakers put on their rally caps for the bottom of the seventh and the Silver Lake bench was as loud as it had been all game, but Atherton made short work of the final inning before leaping into her teammates’ arms as South champion.

“This is an amazing feeling,” said Atherton. “This is what me, Kaitlyn and Maggie wanted to do all four years. We’ve been working towards this point. My team did amazing today and they’re really the reason that we won.”

When asked about the reasons for the team’s success, DiVitto added, “Terrific kids that show up every day with a positive attitude that support each other. It makes our life that much easier to come to the field every single day with a group of girls that want to be here [and] that want to be with each other.”

He also noted, “It’s great to get the win here today, but we’re not done, we’re not satisfied. We need to be ready to go on Tuesday against a really good team from the North.”

Milford (23-1) will put its 23-game win streak on the line against the North champion (either Newton North or Billerica) on Tuesday at Jack Tripp Field at 7:00.

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Milford Beats Hopkinton To Advance To D1 South Final

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Milford players greet Emily Hartman (left) after her two-run home run in the sixth inning. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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TAUNTON, Mass. – The mark of a great team isn’t necessarily how good it performs on its best day, but rather how it perseveres on an off day.

Despite being out-hit by third-seeded Hopkinton and connecting for just seven hits themselves, the second-seeded Hawks came up with the big plays when they needed to and walked away with a 6-3 win.

Milford advances to the D1 South Sectional Final and will take on top-seeded Silver Lake (25-0) on Saturday at 4:00. It marks the Hawks first appearance in the sectional final since 2013.

“We knew we were going to have our hands full here today,” Milford head coach Steve DiVitto said. “We’ve said this to the girls: Great teams can not play play their best and still be successful. And today we felt like we didn’t play our best but it was enough to come out on top. We tip our hats to Hopkinton, they are a great team.”

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The Hawks had a strong start to the game, but battled the rest of the way. Ali Atherton (6.1 IP, K, 3 ER) retired the Hillers in order in the top of the first.

And in the bottom of the first, junior Emily Piergustavo launched a solo shot just over the left field fence at Jack Tripp Field to give Milford an early 1-0 lead.

While Piergustavo was far from done with her day, Milford’s defense was forced to escape a couple of jams over the next three innings.

In the top of the second, Hopkinton had a lead off double but Milford got a force out at third, a pop up to first and a ground out to third to escape without any damage.

In the top of the third, Kaitlyn Holly reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and took third on a single from Maille Bennett. A two out walk loaded the bases but Atherton bounced back with a big strikeout to keep Hopkinton scoreless.

And in the top of the fourth, the Hillers loaded the bases once again. Singles from Julia diBenedetto and Lillian Morningstar and a walk to Holly loaded the bases with two outs. But once again, Atherton delivered in the clutch, getting a loft line drive to short for the final out.

“She’s driven, she’s playing with a purpose,” DiVitto said of Atherton. “She has been focused since last June when we lost to Silver Lake. She’s been focused to get herself to this point to play for a sectional championship. We’re excited for the opportunity, no matter who we play we know it will be a good challenge.

“We’ve been very fortunate to play great defense all year. We work on it every day in practice…we harp on our hitting and our defense. We know Ali and Kelley [Reichert] are great pitchers so we know we’re going to get a good performance from either when they are out there. Ali battled today and Kelley came in and shut the door for us.”

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While Milford was escaping danger on the defensive side of the ball, it added to its lead in the bottom of the third. Junior Maddy Bonvino (2-for-3) led off with a single and took second on a passed ball. Kate Irwin then beat out a bunt for an infield single, moving Bonvino to third. Piergustavo drove in her second run with a sac fly, the throw home allowing Irwin to take second.

With two outs, Maggie Farrell’s hustle down the line on an infield grounder forced a high throw, allowing Irwin to scamper home to make it 3-1.

“When you’re in this type of setting, you want to get the pressure off you and put it on the other team,” DiVitto said. “When you get can get a lead, that’s important. Emily did a great job in that at-bat. There was an illegal pitch, but we’ll take the home run over the pitch. She had three at-bats today and three RBI, that’s why she’s the MVP of the Hockomock League because she’s been doing that all year long.”

Milford added another run in the fifth inning. Bonvino once again led of with a single and moved into scoring position by stealing second. This time, Irwin’s sacrifice bunt moved Bonvino to third and Piergustavo stroked a single – her third RBI – to make it 4-1.

Atherton retired the Hopkinton side in order in the top of the sixth and the Scarlet Hawks added some insurance in the bottom half.

Senior Kaitlyn DeCapua reached on a one out single and sophomore Emily Hartman launched a two-run home run to left field to give Milford a 6-1 lead.

“It’s great to have insurance and obviously today it didn’t hurt to have that insurance,” DiVitto said. “She’s just a sophomore, coming into a big spot here, she doesn’t play like a sophomore. Those were two big insurance runs.”

Hopkinton didn’t go quietly as Kaitlyn Holly left off with a single, moved to second on a ground out and scored on an RBI double from Heather Holly. Heather Holly moved to third on a single from Lindsay Whittles.

Kelley Reichert came on in relief for Milford, getting a ground ball (a fielder’s choice for a run) for the second out and then a grounder to second for the final out of the game.

The Scarlet Hawks will take on Silver Lake in the D1 South Sectional Final on Saturday at 4:00 at Taunton High. The Lakers are no stranger to Milford softball, having ended the Hawks season the last two seasons in the quarterfinals.

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Macek, Milford Outlast Stoughton In Extra Innings

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Milford’s Aidan Wilde (1) and Alex Macek celebrate after recording the final out. (Ryan Lanigan/HockomockSports.com)
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STOUGHTON, Mass. – The last time Milford senior Alex Macek toed the rubber on Anthony Noviello Field on the campus of Stoughton High School, things didn’t exactly go as planned as the Black Knights exploded for 15 runs.

This time around, things couldn’t have gone much better.

Macek pitched 8.2 innings, allowing just two innings in the first inning, and struck out seven, leading the Scarlet Hawks to a 3-2 win over Stoughton in nine innings.

With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the ninth, Macek hit a grounder to the left side of the infield and the throw to first was short, allowing sophomore Alex Coady to cross for the go-ahead run.

Stoughton’s Ryan Sullivan drew a two-out walk and Jack Connelly singled to put runners on the corners with two outs. Milford’s Aidan Wilde relieved Macek on the mound and got the final out, a grounder to third.

“We made plays, we had very good pitching so it gave us an opportunity,” said Milford head coach Paul Pellegrini. “We didn’t take advantage of our opportunities early but we stuck with it and that showed there. That was a complete team effort. I know Macek didn’t want me to take him out there, but his pitch count was up there.”

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Stoughton had a bright start as Ruben Gonzalez reached on an error to lead off and Sullivan sliced a an RBI triple down the right field line after a lengthy at-bat. Connelly took first after being hit but Macek induced a double play, allowing just the one run to score and recorded the third out to escape with just a 2-0 deficit.

Macek then tossed seven and two thirds scoreless, working around a one-out double in the second, a bases loaded situation one one out in the third inning, runners first and second with no outs in the fifth inning, runners on second and third with one out in the sixth and a lead off single in the seventh.

“He just kept them off balance,” Pellegrini said of Macek. “He threw a lot of strikes, he didn’t have too many walks. I know he hit the two guys but we ended up getting out of that inning. He really battled, it didn’t look like his velocity was all there but he was effective with his off speed stuff.”

“I had pitched well against them last year before the 15-0 game earlier this year, so I was confident and I knew it wouldn’t happen again, I wouldn’t let it happen,” Macek said. “The first pitch curve was working well for me and I was getting inside and jamming them.

“We’ve all been playing together since we were nine so we’re all in this together. We didn’t want today to be the last game. I just wanted to put the ball in play and see what happens.”

“No excuses from us, we don’t make excuses,” said Stoughton head coach Mike Armour. “We have to score more than two runs. We have to hit the ball more…there were a lot of runners stranded, for both teams. It seemed like we had guys on base every inning, as did they, and no one was getting it done. We had our chances, we just couldn’t get another run across the fish. Regardless of how it happened, they scored one more run than we did.”

Milford cut into the lead in the third inning, loading the bases for the first of three times in the contest. Tony Mobilia was hit by a pitch and Ryan Goncalves followed with a one-out single. Anthony Arcudi laced a single to load the bases and Wilde drew a walk to cut the deficit in half.

Stoughton starter Justin Hutchinson (6IP, 1R, 6H, 7K) bounced back and recorded two straight strikeouts to avoid any further damage.

“I miss him already,” Armour said of Hutchinson, who led the Hockomock in wins and was second in strikeouts. “To think that we’re done, it’s tough. He was very dedicated to the program and he just loves the game of baseball. I have full confidence he will excel at the next level. There won’t be another Hutch.”

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Milford would send three more batters up to the plate with the bases loaded. The Hawks filled the bags with one out in the fourth but Connelly made a nice grab over the dugout fence in foul territory and Hutchinson got another strikeout. Milford loaded them once again with two outs in the sixth, but Stoughton’s Pat Hagerty made a charging catch in center for the third out.

It looked as though the Black Knights pushed across their third run of the game when sophomore Evan Gibb dove head first into first and appeared to beat the throw, allowing Sullivan to score, but the infield ump called the play out at first.

Wilde started the Hawks off on the right foot in the seventh inning, reaching first after being hit and taking second on a wild pitch. Coady then delivered a line drive base hit to bring Wilde around for the tying run with one out.

“He’s really our vocal leader believe it or not as a sophomore,” Pellegrini said of Coady. “He’s a good kid, he just gets it. His on-base percentage was around .550 this year and he batted around .400…he sees the ball very well. He’d been struggling a little bit at the plate so it was nice him come through at that point.”

Milford baseball (12-9) advances to the D2 South Quarterfinals and will play at fifth-seeded Greater New Bedford (15-6) on Monday at 4:00. Stoughton finishes the season 15-6.

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