Taunton entered Friday’s showdown with top-ranked Milford with two games under its belt. Meanwhile, this was the Hawks first game of the season.
That experience paid off the Tigers, overcoming a one-run deficit with four unanswered runs between the fifth and sixth innings to beat the Scarlet Hawks, 4-1.
“I’m proud of my team,” said Taunton head coach Dave Lewry. “We’ve got a lot of new starters this year and they haven’t played in any pressure games yet, and this was the first one. They didn’t get down on themselves [after Milford scored], we hadn’t done anything for the first four innings but they stayed focused and started coming through. We played a very solid game against a real good team.”
The Scarlet Hawks were the home team despite playing at Jack Tripp Field on the campus of Taunton High School. After senior Ali Atherton retired the side in order in the top half of the first, Milford’s offense looked like it was going to get off to a big start in its first at-bats of the season.
Emily Piergustavo and Jess Tomaso earned back to back one out walks and Maggie Farrell reached on an infield error to load the bases with one out. But Taunton’s Courtney Fisher (CG, 2 hits, 7 strikeouts) settled in, inducing a grounder to third for the force out at home.
Fisher then got a three pitch strikeout to escape the situation unscathed.
Both Atherton and Fisher continued to deal through the second and third innings. Only Milford’s Kate Irwin was able to get a hit in either inning, beating out a throw for an infield single.
The Scarlet Hawks finally cashed in in the bottom of the fourth inning when junior Maddy Bonvino launched a 2-0 pitch just over the fence in left center field to give Milford a 1-0 lead.
While the Hawks grabbed the lead, the Tigers seemed to wake up at the plate themselves.
MacKenzie Handrahan led off the top of the fifth with a line drive single and two batters later, Katie Van Zandt hit one up the middle just over the head of Piergustavo at short to push pinch runner Kelsey White to second.
“I don’t want MacKenzie’s been a surprise, we knew about her from previous seasons but so far, she’s hitting the ball well,” Lewry said. “We were hoping should get make a step up for us this year and so far she’s exceeded my expectations with the way she’s hitting the ball. She’s absolutely crushing it.”
A passed ball pushed both runners up a base and on the next pitch, Rebekah Lajoie hit a fly ball to right field. White came in to score on the sac fly and Van Zandt moved to third, but the throw to home to try and get white got past the catcher and out of play, allowing Van Zandt to come home to give Taunton a 2-1 lead.
Fisher capitalized on the momentum, retiring the Hawks in order in the bottom of the fifth.
“That’s a pretty typical Courtney game,” Lewry said. “She’s not going to ‘wow’ you with a lot of strikeouts but she just keeps throwing that drop, and the changeup and hitting her corners. She gets the job done, I thought she threw an excellent game today.”
Taunton’s bats continued to produce in the top of the sixth. Sophomore Jaime Brown, in her third year starting at third for the Tigers, roped a 0-1 pitch into left field. Brown originally stopped at third as the ball sat at the base of the fence, causing the umps to halt play. But after a quick check, the ball was deemed to have cleared the fence, giving Brown her first ever home run – at any level of softball.
Liana Duarte followed with a four pitch walk and two batters later, Handrahan doubled in the run to give Taunton a 4-1 lead.
Fisher retired the order in both the sixth and seventh to finish the game. Eighth grader Hannah Aldrich made an impressive back handed play at short to get the first out in the sixth.
“I was pretty impressed with our defense, I thought we played great,” Lewry said. “Our eighth grader there at shortstop [Hannah Aldrich] played like a seasoned pro. She made that backhand play in the hole in the sixth inning to get that first out, that was a huge play. I’m pleased with the way the kids are playing at this point.”
For Milford, expectations are still high for a club with plenty of experience. The fact is, the Hawks still have an entire season to go.
“First game, tough opponent, tough place to play, they’re a great team that’s well coached,” said head coach Steve DiVitto. “It was a battle of the pitchers early on. Atherton and Fisher were spectacular early. We were able to go up on that home run and it almost seemed to wake them up a little bit. We had some opportunities early in the game, especially in the first inning. As the year goes on you hope you’re going to capitalize on those. But its the first game, you’re not going to win anything game one, you’re not going to lose anything game one.
“You learn from your mistakes and hopefully if we see them down the road, we’ll be better off. We just hope to get better every game. When we get back to practice on Sunday, we want to be better than we were today. And then we’ll get ready to go for Stoughton in the Davenport opener on Monday.”