WORCESTER, Mass. – When Taunton won the 2021 state title, three star players understandably took most of the headlines. As the Tigers moved forward without its three senior stars, expectations dimmed for this spring. They went from being a favorite to win a championship to one of a pack of teams that could have a shot at making a run.
People underestimated the players that were ready to step into bigger roles this year and keep one of the state’s top programs rolling along. Now this new group of stars has the Tigers right back on the biggest stage.
Junior catcher Kaysie DeMoura blasted a pair of home runs and drove in three and freshman Cate Larson came out of the pen to throw 3-2/3 innings of relief, helping Taunton to a 6-3 win over Methuen in Wednesday night’s semifinal at Worcester State’s Rockwood Field.
“Kaysie was due,” said Taunton coach Carrie Consalvi. “We went to work the last couple of days, we had a game plan, and I think what you saw is them come out and execute our game plan. They were prepared for them.
Consalvi is in her second year as coach and now heading to her second title game, but she admitted things felt a little different than last year. She explained, “We started a year where I think nobody believed we’d be here. I’ve just been telling these guys all along, just keep working, it takes a whole team, you can’t just ride one person to the show. They come out here every day and give everything they’ve got.”
Things didn’t look good for the Tigers in the top of the first. Kiele Coleman lined a one-out double to left center and back-to-back walks from starter Liv Mendonca loaded the bases. The Rangers had already beaten two Hockomock League opponents, Attleboro and King Philip, to reach the semifinal and seemed confident that they could take down a third.
After Mendonca caught Jenny Grelle looking for her first strikeout, Ariana Baez ripped a single through the hole into left. Ava Venturelli charged it and came up firing, tossing a perfect strike to DeMoura at home and getting the second runner by a couple feet.
It was a momentum boost to only be down 1-0 and the Tigers wasted no time erasing that deficit.
“All year our thing is, we know what we are, we know people are going to put runs up against us, our job is to score more and that’s what we’ve been trying to do all along,” said Consalvi. “They get hot and they’ll streak a whole bunch together and it’s worked for us.”
Kyleah Plumb got things started by just beating out a bunt single. Two batters later, DeMoura stepped up and hit a towering fly ball that at first seemed to be in play for the outfield but kept carrying, eventually hitting the top of the wall on its way out. With one swing, Taunton led 2-1. Venturelli followed by smashing a double to left center. Eighth grader Victoria Corrao pinch ran, advancing to third on a single by Hayley Krockta and then coming home on a wild pitch.
Freshman Brooke Aldrich, whose sister Hannah was one of the aforementioned big three from last year’s title-winning team, started the third by flashing some leather at short. She charged one ball and made a nice throw on the run and then she backpedaled quickly to snare a line drive.
With two down, Makenna Donovan tripled to the wall in right. Venturelli nearly ended the inning as she charged a sinking liner from Grelle, but when she went into a slide she wasn’t able to hold onto the shoestring catch and Donovan came home to make it 3-2.
Again, Taunton answered right back. DeMoura led things off with the perfect response, a lined shot over the left field wall. This one was a no-doubter and put the Tigers back up two.
“I wasn’t thinking, surprisingly,” DeMoura said with a laugh. “I just have to go up there and not think because my body just moves to the ball rather than me over-thinking it.” When asked about her swing, she replied, “It’s more of a swing for me to hit line drives and sometimes it works for more than that.”
With one out, Krockta sent Methuen’s left fielder back to the wall and she wasn’t able to make the grab, putting the Taunton first baseman on second. Aldrich followed with a double off the wall in straightaway center and Mendonca helped her own cause by hooking a triple down the right field line. Although Mendonca was thrown out trying to stretch it into an inside-the-park homer (nearly avoiding the tag with an acrobatic slide at the plate), Taunton led 6-2.
Methuen came back and got another run in the fourth. A one-out error started the rally and Colleen McNamara followed with a single. A walk loaded the bases and Consalvi turned to Larson. The freshman induced a grounder to short, which Aldrich came home with to get the lead runner. DeMoura tried to be aggressive and turn two at third base, but the throw got away and McKenna came home with the third run.
That would be all that Methuen would get. Larson was excellent in relief, providing a stark contrast to the style of Mendonca and keeping the Rangers off-balance. She gave up a leadoff single in the fifth but it was the only hit she allowed in 3-2/3 innings of work.
“Liv and Cate are like complete opposite style pitchers and they both needed each other this year,” said Consalvi. “When they start to creep in on one then the other is right there for them. They’re right there just picking each other up.”
Taunton wasn’t able to tack on any more runs, despite putting two on in the sixth, but it didn’t matter. The Tigers had done what they needed to do and although the style might be very different from last year’s team, the result has been the same, another trip to “the show.”
“Last year I was the DH, so I only hit,” DeMoura said, “so, it definitely feels better on my part to do absolutely everything. It feels very good to be going back. We want to bring it home. It will mean a lot this year.”
Taunton (20-4) will face No. 9 seed Peabody, which upset last year’s finalist Wachusett in the semifinal. The title game will be played at 5:30 on Friday night at Sortino Field at UMass Amherst.
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