MANSFIELD, Mass. -For the first time in five seasons of competing in the Hockomock, Taunton softball can proclaim itself the best following a 12-0 victory at Mansfield on Monday afternoon that clinched a one-loss league campaign and at least a one-game advantage over King Philip.
It is not the first Hockomock title in the program’s history (the Tigers and Warriors shared the title in 2014), but it is the first time that Taunton will finish the season alone in first place in the Kelley-Rex division, ending a streak of nine straight titles by KP.
“It means a lot to us,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry. “It was nice getting a share a couple years ago but we’ve been on top all year and to drop back and potentially lose it or end up in another tie was not what we were looking for, so this one feels good.
“KP has dominated it for so many years and it just feels good to be able to come in and take it away from them, for a year anyway.”
Senior Jordan Wade, who is in her fifth season with the Tigers, added, “We haven’t been on top since we entered into the Hockomock and, this is a great division, to know we’re one of the best in this division means a lot and I think it’s a good push for us to go into states.”
Taunton had the opportunity to clinch the title on Sunday but lost for the at Milford (its first loss of the season), which added even more motivation to not allow the outright title slip away as it has in the past couple of years.
Wade said, “We came in this year and we just wanted it. The loss yesterday just made us want it even more. We did not want to lose today.
“We’re a confident team and we used that loss yesterday as fire, as energy to come out today. We needed that loss just to let us know that people are out there, just like us, wanting to go into the tournament and wanting to go far into states.”
The Tigers did not waste any time putting themselves in a position to clinch the title, scoring four runs in the top of the first.
Freshman Jaime Brown was moved up to the top of the order, replacing Liana Duarte, and that switch paid immediate dividends. Brown lined a lead-off triple to right and would score on a wild pitch. After Aimee Kistner singled and Meghan Navarro reached on an error, sophomore Kya Enos blasted a three-run homer to left center, using her speed to score standing up.
“We were talking about that, the coaches, before the game – lets jump on top early,” said Lewry. “Kya obviously was huge. She’s been clutch for us all year. She doesn’t feel pressure; she just comes and plays.”
Mansfield had runners on base in the second and third innings against Kistner, who was pitching her second game in as many days, but both times the Taunton pitcher got the out that she needed to escape unscathed.
Those missed opportunities would be the last ones that the Hornets would get. Kistner seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, mixing her pitches and increasing her velocity in the later innings. She retired the final 13 hitters that she faced.
“I was a little worried because it was back-to-back days,” Lewry explained, referencing some nagging injuries that Kistner is managing. “I was a little concerned that she’d feel the effects from yesterday, but she did a great job for us today. She’s clutch; she can dig down when she needs to.”
Mansfield would finish with just one hit, a third inning single by Megan Letendre. Kara Bendanillo walked, Maddie Letendre reached on an error, and Liz Mackin reached on a fielder’s choice. That was it for the home team.
Meanwhile, the Taunton lineup showed that it has pop from all positions. Duarte led off the fifth with a bunt single followed by an infield single from Brown. Wade drove her in with a single to left and then Kistner (3-for-4) cleared the bases with a triple to center. Madi Letendre retired back-to-back hitters, but Sarah Bagge brought in courtesy runner Hailey Medeiros to make it 8-0.
Lewry said, “That’s been a big thing for us all year is that we have gotten offense out of our entire order. It’s nice to see it come around again.”
Katie Van Zandt singled to start the sixth and would come home on a throwing error, while Wade reached on an infield single, stole second, moved up on the error and would score her second run of the game on Kistner’s third run drive in.
In the top of the seventh, Duarte (2-for-4) lined a triple to right field, scoring Bagge and Van Zandt and making Lewry look like a genius for moving her down to the nine-hole on Monday.
“That worked out pretty nicely,” he said. “Liana’s been struggling a little bit the last couple weeks…so I figured just take a little pressure off her and Jaime hits no matter where you put her. It seemed to pay off.”
The season has been one big pay-off for the Tigers, who clinched the Kelley-Rex title with their 14th shutout of the spring. Taunton has outscored opponents 220-16 and finished a perfect 10-0 against teams from the division.
Taunton (19-1, 15-1) will close out the regular season against Dighton-Rehoboth and city rival Coyle & Cassidy. Mansfield (11-7, 8-7) finishes up with Holliston and Canton.
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.