Hawks shed semifinal jinx, 6-5
Palmer's baserunner Katie Fournier (24) dives back to first base and is called safe although it seems that her hand is off the bag as the tagis applied during the top of the fifth inning of Frontier's 6-5 WMass Division II Softball Tournament semifinals Tuesday afternoon at UMass-Amherst's Sortino Field.
Recorder/J. Anthony Roberts
Frontier catcher Courtney-Shea Newsome (21) tags out Palmer's Katie Fournier at home plate in the top of the fifth inning of Palmer's 6-5 WMass Division II Softball Tournament semifinal loss to the Red Hawks at UMass-Amherst's Sortino Field .
Recorder/J. Anthony Roberts
AMHERST— In what turned out to be a down-to-the-wire nail-biter, Frontier Regional School advanced to the Western Massachusetts Division II Softball Tournament championship game for the first time since 2006 with a 6-5 semifinal victory over Palmer High School Tuesday at UMass’ Sortino Field.
With the third-seeded Red Hawks (18-2) leading 6-4 going into the top of the seventh inning and No. 7 seed Palmer (8-14) down to its last three outs, Red Hawks pitcher McKayla Poissant got two quick outs as Panthers pitcher Brianna Stanley grounded out and center fielder Jenna Sablak popped out to short. Palmer was not quite ready to call it a day, however, as third-baseman Emily Czaja cracked a first-pitch double, and was quickly knocked in on a single by Jasmine Santos, reducing the lead to just one. After a passed ball put Santos into scoring position, Poissant went to a full count on Panthers’ center fielder and clean-up hitter Sydney LeVasseur, the potential go-ahead run, who finally grounded out softly to second to end the contest.
“It feels amazing,” said Frontier head coach Carrie Fydenkevez. “I’ve been coaching here for three years and we’ve been to the semifinals three years in a row, so I was sick of going home after the semifinals, and it’s very nice to finally be going to the finals. Last year, at the end of the year, I gave the girls all little cups of UMass dirt, with a sign on them that said ‘Destination UMass, finals.’ And here we are. It’s a great, great feeling.”
Frontier trailed 2-0 after at half-inning, as Palmer used two base hits and an error on Hawks left fielder Caitlin Sullivan to jump out to the early lead. That lead was short lived, however, as Frontier batted around and put up a five-spot of its own in the bottom of the frame.
The Hawks got things started with a leadoff single by Hannah Adams, and after a strikeout to No. 2 hitter Amanda Robinson, Poissant helped her own cause with a base hit to left. Sullivan then stepped into the box and quickly made amends for her miscue, crushing a double to right-center that plated two. Two batters later, Ally Hamelin reached on an infield single and advanced to second on an errant throw that also brought Sullivan around with the third run. Courtney-Shea Newsome then delivered a singled to left, moving Hamelin to third. Cassidy Ciesluk followed by ripping a double to deep left-center that scored two more, giving the Hawks a 5-2 advantage.
Frontier appeared poised to break it open in the second after loading the bases with no outs on two hits and a walk. Poissant then ripped a sinking line drive to left that Sablak made a nice shoestring catch on, firing to third to double up Adams, who had strayed too far off the bag. The soft-tossing Stanley then retired Gwen Thayer on a pop-out, ending the threat. The Hawks scored their final run of the day in the bottom of the third, and spent the rest of the day fending off the relentless Panthers, who put up single runs in the fourth and sixth before making their last stand in the seventh.
“Palmer’s a great team, and they really stepped up their game, and we didn’t hit as well as I would have liked,” said Fydenkevez. “The last time we played them (a 12-0 Frontier victory on May 14), we played five innings and were done. When we found out coming into this game that we were playing Palmer, my biggest fear was that it would be in their heads, they’d remember ... I think the girls wish this one hadn’t been so close, but as a coach, it’s not such a bad thing. You’re in the tournament, you’ve got to play clean, hard-hitting softball. Hopefully that’s what we’ll do on Saturday.”
When asked if Stanley threw off the timing of her hitters, the coach made no excuses.
“ You know, for the past two days, I’ve been throwing what I thought would have been similar to that, and it’s slower than what we’re used to, but we’re good enough hitters that we should have been able to adjust.”
The Red Hawks will face Hampshire Regional High School, who beat Southwick-Tolland Regional High School in Tuesday’s other semifinal, 3-0, Saturday afternoon at 2, also at Sortino Field.