Athol wraps up baseball crown

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After struggling to a 2-5 record to open the season, Athol High School knew it would have to make another of its late runs to even make the postseason.

What the Red Raiders and their fans probably didn’t expect to win was the school’s first outright division title in 11 seasons.

Athol, which qualified for the postseason earlier in the week, clinched the outright Hampshire League East baseball title with a nine-inning, 3-2 victory over arch-rival Mahar Regional School Thursday afternoon at Thomas J. O’Brien Field in Athol.

“This has been the most rewarding run,” said Athol head coach Josh Talbot, who was a senior on the 2003 HL North and eventual Division II state-championship squad. “This is just a gritty team. They just refuse to lose right now. If we get knocked out (of the tournament), whoever ends up knocking us out is going to have to earn it.”

On Thursday, sophomore Shawn Smart carried the offense and drove in the game-winning run.

Jamie Posk led off the ninth with a singe, then after a failed sacrifice attempt by Andrew Poor, Bryce Melanson bunted Posk to second. Smart came up and laced a 1-0 pitch through the right side. Right fielder Hunter Richardson came up throwing and fired a strike to catcher Drew Patria, but as he tagged Posk the ball came out of his mitt and Posk was safe.

“(This was) an instant classic, Athol versus Mahar ... what do you expect?” quipped Talbot.

Athol, which has won nine of its last 12 games, fell behind 2-0 in the top of the fifth, when both of its errors led to two unearned runs for the Seantors.

In the last half of the fifth, Kevin Hume led off with a single, Posk reached on an infield error and Andrew Poor worked a nine-pitch at-bat before fisting a single into short center field to loaded the bases with no outs.

After Bryce Melanson popped up via the infield-fly rule, Smart came to the dish and lined a 1-1 pitch to center that plated Hume and Posk and tied the score. Athol had a chance to take the lead, but Mahar starter Zach Adams induced a pair of flyouts to right to escape further trouble.

Talbot has been pleased with Smart’s progress.

“He’s one of those kids who makes his own break and does a lot nice things,” said Talbot of the sophomore outfielder. “He came up twice in big spots and came through both times.”

Bradley Bousquet pitched three no-hit innings with five strikeouts to earn the win in relief of Melanson, who fanned seven and walked four.

Poor (double) and Smart both finished with two hits for the Raiders.

“We’ve turned into a pretty darn good team,” said Talbot, whose team batting average has risen 72 points in the last dozen games. “We’ve made some great runs (to get into the postseason), but there’s something about this group that makes you feel good about it when you go home at night.”

Athol (11-8 overall, 8-2 HL East) is scheduled to host Frontier Regional School today at 4 p.m. in its regular season finale.

Softball

Pioneer 9, FC Tech 5 — Pioneer Valley Regional School scored six runs in the sixth inning to erase a 5-3 deficit and defeat Franklin County Technical School, 9-5, in an independent sofbtall matchup Thursday night in Northfield.

The Panthers’ Katlyn Grover slapped an RBI single in the sixth to cut the deficit to one, then Logan Anderson roped a two-run double to give Pioneer (12-8) the lead for good. After an error plated the seventh run, Nicole Bitzer added some insurance with a two-run single.

Anderson finished with two of the Panthers’ eight hits in support of winning pitcher Erin Bertrand, who fired a four-hitter with five strikeouts and one walk.

Kaite Newell had two hits and Sam Scopa added a double and two RBIs for the Eagles.

Rachel Shearer fanned five and walked only one in the complete-game loss.

Pioneer will await Tuesday’s seed-committee meeting to find out its first-round game in the Division III Tournament.

Franklin Tech (12-7) is scheduled to close out its regular season today at home against Smith Vocational & Agricultural High School at 4 p.m.

Boys’ ultimate

Amherst 15, Four Rivers 10 — Four Rivers Charter School’s second-half comeback fell short as Amherst Regional High School earned a 15-10 victory in boys’ ultimate action Thursday in Greenfield.

The Hurricanes held an 8-3 lead at the half and extended it to 12-3 before the Otters started to rally behind the play of Kai Sweitzer, Chandler Thoma and Jack Conant.

Four Rivers (23-3) next plays in the State Tournament on Saturday and Sunday in Greenfield.

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