TAUNTON, Mass. – After rolling through the South sectional, outscoring opponents 37-0 along the way, Taunton had yet to look anything but perfectly comfortable during its playoff run. That changed on Monday night in the Div. 1 state semifinal at Jack Tripp Field.
The Tigers were pushed for seven innings by a scrappy Billerica team that was the No. 17-seed coming into the playoffs but knocked off a pair of unbeaten teams on it way to the North title. Taunton rode its pitching, defense, experience, and a big hit from the bottom of the order to pull out a 2-0 win and advance to the state title game.
When asked if this time of game might help the Tigers as they look ahead to a state championship game, first-year coach Carrie Consalvi said, “One hundred percent. Actually, as a coach, this is the most rewarding type of win because this is what you preach all year.
“It’s a star-studded team and it’s been driven by the big three (White, Aldrich, and McAloon) all year and your challenge as a coach is you have to keep preaching team, team, team and that’s exactly what came through tonight.”
She added, “Complete team effort. Our big three were a little bit quiet and the other ones responded and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Billerica came into the semifinal as a significant underdog, but that was nothing new for a team that finished the regular season at 8-7 and knocked off the top two seed in the North. The Indians put a pair of runners on in the second on walks, got a runner to third base in the third, and brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh.
Despite all the pressure on her shoulders, the 90-degree weather, and without her team jumping out to the early lead that has become common over the past few games, Kelsey White continued to dominate. She finished with 15 strikeouts for the second game in a row, continued her shutout streak, and allowed only one hit, while also making a pair of put outs in the field.
It started in the first, as White struck out a pair and chased down a popped up bunt over her head by Samantha Gaona. In the bottom half of the inning, Angie Lynch continued her hot stretch at the plate with a leadoff single, took second on the throw back to the infield, and then stole third. Billerica lefty Analise Grady got pop ups from Hanna Aldrich and McKenzie McAloon to get out of the jam.
In the second, White walked a pair, but got a strikeout to end the threat. One inning later, with the game still scoreless, Zaria Jean-Pierre belted a one-out shot to right center. For a second it looked like it might leave the yard but it one-hopped the fence for a double. Jean-Pierre got to third base when a pitch bounced a couple feet away from McAloon, but White struck out the next two hitters to keep the game scoreless.
Taunton finally grabbed the lead in the bottom half of the third. A one-out single by Lynch, who has reached base eight times in her past three games, got the rally started and Kaysie Demoura reached on a throwing error, putting two runners in scoring position for the heart of the order. Grady induced an Aldrich swinging bunt back to the circle. Lynch waited until the throw went to first and then raced home, sliding in just ahead of the tag.
White inadvertently helped her own cause leading off the fourth when she took a pitch off the helmet. Katelyn Bizzaro came in as the courtesy runner and moved to second on a bunt by Tayah DaCosta and then stole third.
After Olyvia Mendonca was robbed on a great diving grab in shallow right by Emily West, Consalvi elected to let Hayley Krockta come up for her second at-bat rather than pinch hit with Kyleah Plumb. Krockta came through, knocking a single into left with the help of a well-timed bounce over the third baseman’s glove to bring in a key insurance run.
“I almost did,” Consalvi said about making the switch. “[Kyleah] had her helmet on and at the last second I said, not yet. Hayley comes in and gets that big hit. Perfect timing. We worked hard at practice, so I’m happy for her.”
Taunton now had a small cushion and White seemed to be getting stronger. She struck out a pair and grabbed a line drive in the fifth and struck out the first two in the sixth. Aldrich ended the inning by chasing down a sinking liner behind third.
Still leading just 2-0 in the seventh, White found another gear, striking out the first two batters before walking one to bring the tying run to the plate. She made sure there would be no unnecessary drama, recording her third strikeout of the inning and 15th of the game to seal the win and the second title game appearance of her career.
When asked about the stretch of games that her team has had to get to this point, including five games in the past eight days, Consalvi said, “Grueling, a lot of pressure, there’s a lot of expectations here to win and to produce and it’s been tough. It’s been hot, there’s been back-to-back games, it’s been what five games in seven or eight days or something like that? You try to do what you can and keep it light and just keep it rolling at this point.”
Taunton (19-0) will be back home again on Wednesday night, hosting Central champion Wachusett, the defending state champ, in a rematch of the 2018 final that the Tigers won.
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