Bears claw Indians in title game, 8-3
No. 7 Mackenzie Phillips catches the edge of the ball for a foul. DAVID HOITT PHOTO
Trouble was brewing early for the Turners Falls finalists Saturday versus New Bedford Voke in the state Division III softball finals at Rockwood Field on the campus of Worcester State University. The result was an 8-3 Turners Falls loss to the Bears and state-runnerup status.
Turners Falls baserunner Maddy Johnson jars the bag loose as she slides back into first base on a throw from a New Bedford Voke outfielder who caught a fly ball.
Turners Falls ace Mackenzie Phillips went pretty-much unchallenged in the postseason before meeting up with New Bedford Voke Saturday at Rockwood Field on the campus of Worcester State University, where the Bears were not intimidated by her heat and recognized her breaking ball in advance from a hint they discovered in her delivery.
WORCESTER — Turners Falls High School played some fantastic softball and caught a few breaks in advancing to the state championship game.
On Saturday, there were no breaks to be found — only a Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational-Technical High School offense that came up with a monster performance fitting of a champion.
The Bears unleashed a 16-hit assault, including hits from four of their first five batters, and continually denied the Indians on prime scoring opportunities in a convincing 8-3 victory to claim the program’s first state title in the MIAA Division III Softball Championship Saturday afternoon at Rockwood Field on the campus of Worcester State University.
New Bedford Voke (22-9) wasted no time getting to Indian sophomore righthander Mackenzie Phillips. Leadoff batter Riley Avila singled through the left side, Jennifer Piers hit a hard one-out grounder up the middle that moved Avila to third, and Piers took second on the throw. Krystin Sylvia followed by lining a single to center to plate Avila and courtesy runner Sarah Perry, and Sylvia advanced to third on the throw, which sailed to the backstop. Marissa Piers singled home Sylvia and took second on another errant outfield throw.
It’s exactly the type of start Bears head coach Mark Collins was hoping for. “We came off the bus swinging,” he said. “We knew we had to jump out and set the tone, and they did.They attacked it.”
The Indians (23-3) had a chance to respond slip away in the bottom of the frame. Morgan Ozdarski worked a leadoff walk before Amber Caouette smacked a hard bouncer up the middle to move courtesy runner Maddy Johnson to third, with the throw moving Caouette to second to put runners in scoring position with one out. Voke freshman pitcher Neely Eddleston was able to work out of the jam by catching Indian freshman shortstop Gabby Arzuaga looking at a third strike and getting Phillips on a grounder to second.
Turners let another similar situation slip away in the third. Ozdarski worked an 11-pitch, one-out walk, Caouette smacked a two-out single up the middle that allowed courtesy runner Johnson to get to third as Caouette moved to second, but Arzuaga grounded to short, and first baseman Mollie Mayer made a sparking scoop of the low throw to keep the Indians off the scoreboard.
The Bears added two runs in the fifth to make it 5-0. Katelynn Couto smoked a shot past Caouette at third and was erased on Jennifer Piers’ attempted sacrifice bunt (Perry came in again to run). Sylvia’s hard grounder went off the glove of a lunging Phillips for an infield single, then Marissa Pires’ hard grounder was knocked down by a diving Arzuaga, but she couldn’t flip the ball to Putala in time for a force, and Perry came around to score from second on the infield single. Roy walked to load the bases, and Tetreault brought home Sylvia with a single to left.
GNB nearly broke the game open, but second baseman Putala turned Megan Young’s grounder into a 4-3 double play. Young was originally called safe by the first-base umpire, but Indians head coach Gary Mullins immediately appealed and the home-plate ump reversed the call.
Turners had another opportunity to score in the fifth with two outs, when Putala singled through the left side and Caouette dropped a flare into right-center for her third hit. Putala scampered to third, drawing a throw that sent Caouette to second. Arzuaga came up and smacked an 0-1 fastball to the right-center power alley for what looked like a bases-clearing blow, but right fielder Marissa Piers quickly moved to her right and hauled it in to end the threat.
“That’s the game right there,” lamented Mullins. “If a couple of those (balls) go through, we’re back in the ballgame and we’re feeling good about ourselves. ... Gabby hit one right on the button to right field, but they were right there.
“You’ve got to get breaks to get here, and we’ve gotten some, but (today) we got behind early and they took care of us,” added the Hall-of-Famer.
Collins attributed the Bears’ championship to their loose and relaxed approach, and the fact they play in the difficult South Coast Conference, with current and former state powers like Joseph Case (Swansea) and Apponequet (Lakeville), as well as Dighton-Rehoboth, Fairhaven and Old Rochester Regional (Mattapoisett).
“Our girls have played this way all year, nice and loose,” said Collins. “We play in a very tough (conference), which seasons us up for situations like this. It’s never an easy day at the office in that conference.”
Sensing that the Indians could break out for a big rally, GNB continued to swing away and in the sixth and tacked on three more runs to increase the lead to 8-0. Mayer singled to right, Avila ripped a double to deep left field, then Couto ripped a single to center to score both runners. She moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Jennifer Piers’ double to the fence. Phillips struck out the side after the two-bagger, but the Bears were in complete command.
GNB Voke’s top five hitters — Avila, Couto, Sylvia and the Piers sisters — were zeroed in all afternoon and teed off on Phillips, going a combined 12-for-20 with two doubles and six RBIs. Their 16 hits were four more than all five of Turners’ previous tournament opponents combined against what had been a lights-out hurler. The Bears must have have been used to the heat she brought, because they handled it with confidence.
“The top of the order has been hitting all year,” offered Collins. “They knew what they were looking for with the fastball. We picked up a flaw in her delivery, on her curveball, she showed it a little bit, so we had them lay off it and just kept attacking the zone and, hey, what more can I say? It was great.”
The Indians refused to go quietly, and put together a three-run rally in the seventh. Jordan Meattey singled, then Ozdarski hit a blast off the base of the left-field fence for an RBI double, and Putala drilled a one-hopper off the fence at nearly the same spot in left to score courtesy runner Jordyn Fiske. Putala advanced to third on Caouette’s groundout and scored on Arzuaga’s sacrifice fly, but Eddelston got Phillips to ground out to second to end it.
Eddleston, who began the season on the junior varsity, finished with 11 strikeouts and only two walks while scattering nine hits. She also benefited from a solid, flawless defense that did not commit an error in the pressure-cooker of a title game.
“She’s incredible for a 14-year-old kid, “ said Collins. “We call her the Ice Queen. She’s been outstanding, but she’s only as good as her defense. My outfield has been outstanding all season. You have to have the defense (to win).”
Phillips struck out six and walked one while completing an otherwise stellar first season as the Indians’ starter.“I just think they were a pretty good-hitting team,” said Ozdarski. “Sometimes a pitch wouldn’t go where it was supposed to and they’d get that, but for the most part, (Phillips) was pitching pretty well.”
Turners loses only Ozdarski and center fielder Emma Johnson to graduation. Ozdarski feels there are plenty of good seasons ahead, especially the next few with Phillips in the circle.
“(Phillips) is only a sophomore, so I can’t wait to see how good she is in the next two years,” she said. “We already have our next catcher (Arzuaga), and outfield there’s plenty of girls to choose from, so I think they’re going to be right back here next year, and maybe they’ll win it.”
Don’t bet against it.
Notes: Turners is now 6-6 in the state finals. ... Caouette finished the postseason with 10 hits in her final 13 at-bats. ... The Indians left eight runners on base and were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position before the seventh inning. ... GNB’s enrollment for girls in grades 9-12 — according to the MIAA figures used to align postseason divisions — is 1,096, the fifth-biggest figure in the entire state, and bigger than every western Massachusetts school (Springfield Central has 1,012). Turners, conversely, has 144 girls from grades 9-12, which ranks 125th out of the 148 teams in Division III. ... The South section swept all three divisions. Bellingham (25-1) used junior Chloe Woodward’s two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning to beat Grafton, 3-1, and claim the Division II title, while Bridgewater-Raynham blanked Holy Name 9-0 for its first-ever Division I crown behind a one-hitter from 6-foot-2 junior Sarah Dawson, who recently made a verbal commitment to play college softball for the University of Pittsburgh.