TAUNTON, Mass. – The Taunton softball team has been one of the most lethal and dangerous offenses in the state over the past couple of seasons, and with 165 runs scored this year, they are among the best again this year.
While the Tigers can certainly mash and string together hit after hit, one thing that Taunton is focusing on as the state tournament approaches is cashing in when the opportunity arises.
Taunton turned to small ball on Wednesday night at Jack Tripp Field, scoring the first three runs of the game via squeeze plays, earning a 5-0 win over Franklin in a battle of top teams in the Kelley-Rex.
The win avenges the Tigers’ lone loss, which was to the Panthers back in April, a loss that snapped the defending D1 State Champions’ 28-game win streak.
“It’s something that we’ve used in the past and it depends on the situation and the batters,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry of the small ball approach. “We haven’t been great at bunting this year but we’ve hit so well its kind of been hidden. But tournament time, you have to be able to bunt.”
Taunton scored once in the third inning on a squeeze play and then used back-to-back bunts in the fourth inning to bring in two more runs. Sophomore Kelsey White, who threw a complete game shutout with four hits allowed and eight strikeouts, smashed a two-run home run in the fifth inning for insurance runs.
“Tonight and the other night game against Feehan, a night game between two good teams, a playoff-like atmosphere,” Lewry said. “That’s why we try to have these games towards the end of the year because it helps come tournament time.
“That was a huge win, I thought both teams played very, very well. We have a tough schedule coming up so It’s a lot nicer to have a two-game lead gap than it is to be in a tie, that’s for sure.”
With first place in the Kelley-Rex division up for grabs, both teams had a bit of a nervous start. Franklin’s Ally Shea smacked a single to lead off and Anna Balkus dropped a bunt down to put the first two Panthers on base with no outs. White answered with back-to-back strikeouts and induced a grounder back to the circle for the third out and no damage done.
“We missed our opportunities against an outstanding team, they are a great team without a doubt,” said Franklin coach Kate Fallon-Comeau. We missed our chances, we had a good chance in the first inning getting the first two on, and you can’t do that against a team like that.”
Jaime Brown singled to open for the Tigers and moved to second on a wild pitch but Franklin starter Jackie Cherry (6IP, 7H, 3BB, 5K, 5ER) fanned the next two batters and got a fly ball to center to escape the first.
After a scoreless second, Brown led off the bottom of the third with a walk. Alexa White dropped down a sac bunt and Brown used heads’ up base running to scamper all the way to third. With an emphasis on bringing in the first run, Lewry elected to have sophomore Hanna Aldrich — who leads the league in home runs — drop down a bunt for a squeeze play and Brown sprinted home to make it 1-0.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had Hanna bunt, certainly not this year, I can’t remember before that,” Lewry said. “But you have to get that first run. Hanna is a good bunter too. Payton Cegarlski bunted a few games ago for us. It doesn’t matter who’s at the plate, you have a runner at third with one out or no outs, you have to get in that run.”
Ceglarski drilled a deep single to lead of the fourth and pinch runner Kylie Thorpe moved up to second on a sac bunt from Kelsey White. A wild pitch third strike put runners on the corners and Lewry again called for the squeeze. Eighth-grader Ava Venturelli laid the bunt down and Thorpe was able to score when the ball was mishandled at home.
On the next pitch, Abbie McDonough dropped another bunt and Paige Silvia came sprinting home to make it 3-0. The Tigers loaded the bases but Cherry got a fly ball to center and Balkus gunned a runner at home for a double play to prevent any more runs.
White retired eight straight before Franklin’s Maggie Hobby singled through the left side with two outs in the fifth. After Shea was hit by a pitch, the Panthers had runners on first and second but white got a ground ball to Brown at third for the third out.
In the bottom of the fifth, Aldrich had a leadoff single before Cherry retired the next two batters. After bunting in her previous at-bat, Kelsey White got a hold of a pitch this time and sent it over the center field fence for a two-run home run.
A two-base error was erased by Kelsey White on a fielder’s choice in the sixth, and then she retired the side in order in the seventh, getting the final two outs on strikes.
“Kelsey was amazing tonight, huh?” Lewry said. “She had everything going, the changeup was probably the best she’s had all year and she got a lot of kids with that nice change. She’s been struggling a little at the plate, I told her yesterday I was thinking about flexing for her and she told me she was ready. She got into that pitch though and hit it pretty darn good.”
Taunton softball (10-1 Hockomock, 14-1) takes sole possession of first place with a game in hand. The Tigers return to action on Saturday night against Attleboro at 7:00. Franklin (9-3, 10-4) returns home for a game against Oliver Ames on Friday afternoon.