TAUNTON, Mass. – Defending state champion Taunton kicked off its title defense on Monday night at Jack Tripp Field against a familiar foe. It is never easy to play a team three times in a season, especially when it is a league rival and annual competitor for the league title.
The Tigers made it a clean sweep against King Philip and earned their third shutout of the Warriors this season, earning a 4-0 victory and getting started on the road to a potential repeat.
“First game of the tournament is always tough,” said Taunton coach Dave Lewry about facing an atypical No. 15 seed in the opening round. “We’ve been there before but all the kids were saying they had the butterflies and were a little nervous early on, so get this out of the way and we can move onto tomorrow.”
Senior outfielder Alexa White added, “It’s definitely a relief to have the first one in the books. We have a young team, so we made sure to talk to them yesterday at practice to be prepared that the atmosphere is different, everything’s different, so you need to keep the energy up and you need to relax, at the plate or in the field.”
King Philip (13-9) had been outscored 19-0 in two regular season meetings with Taunton, but the Warriors came into Monday confident that they could pull the upset and had an early chance to get on the board. Raegan Simeone bunted for a hit with one out in the first and then stole second. After a strikeout, Liliana Rolfe walked to put two on base, but Taunton starter Kelsey White snagged a comebacker by her opposite number, Faith Turinese, to end the inning.
The Warriors wouldn’t have another base runner until a one-out single by Rolfe in the fourth. Rolfe was controversially called out on a steal attempt and a pop up to first baseman Tayah DaCosta ended the threat.
“It’s been a struggle against most quality pitchers,” Beauchemin said about the lack of offense. “You’ve got to get that key hit, but we didn’t have many hits to begin with.”
Taunton wasted no time jumping in front. JJaime Brown led off the bottom frame with a double to right center. Abigail McDonough dropped down a bunt to move Brown to third and a wild pitch allowed her to come home with what would turn out to be the game-winning run.
Beauchemin said, “You can’t make any mistakes against this team. They’re as strong as they were last year, if not stronger.”
It stayed 1-0 until the third inning. With one out Brown drew a walk and again McDonough dropped down a bunt to move her into scoring position. Hanna Aldrich, who was robbed of a single in the first by KP shortstop Meghan Gorman, lined a base hit to left to double the lead.
Lewry said, “I just had a feeling it was going to be one of those games, so we want to get runs any way we can, chip away one at a time if we have to and it seemed to work out.”
In the fourth Taunton gave itself a cushion with a two-out rally. Turinese got a pair of fly balls, including one to deep center by Kelsey White, and seemed to be cruising through another inning, but Paige Silvia took a pitch off her thigh. Alexa White followed with a triple that was crushed into the gap in left center. White scored on a double by eighth grader Ava Venturelli.
“It brings the confidence in the next batter up to keep it going and it definitely gets the girls pumped,” said Alexa White about the importance of two-out rallies.
There was one more threat by the Warriors in the seventh, as they tried to keep their season alive. Rolfe was hit by a pitch with one out, reaching base for the third straight time, and Turinese hustled to beat out an infield single. Taunton’s defense made the plays it needed to with Aldrich and Brown grabbing grounders and getting the outs to seal the win.
“I think the kids gave a very good representation today, we played hard,” said Beauchemin. “We’re not young, but we’re inexperienced and I think next year we’re going to be a very formidable team.”
Lewry praised the Warriors and was happy to get through a third meeting with KP. He said, “I think they’re a much better team than they were at the beginning of the season and I thought they played an excellent game tonight. Their defense was good, their pitching was real good, and they just had some trouble hitting Kelsey, which is good for us.”
When asked if things felt any different entering the playoffs defending last year’s title, White said that the Tigers were just trying to focus on the moment rather than the ultimate destination.
“We’ve got a tough road ahead, we know that, but I think we have the talent to do it,” she said. “It’s about pulling everything together with clutch hits and keeping those rallies going. We have the mentality to take every game one step at a time. Just focus on the game you’re playing.”
Taunton (21-2) will host No. 10 seed Marshfield on Tuesday night at Jack Tripp Field.