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4 locals go for WMass crowns

  • TF 10 Charboneau  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Frontier's Courtney Newsome, #21, takes a swing during the game against Hopkins on Wednesday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Turners Falls winning pitcher Mackenzie Phillips cruises to a five-inning no-hitter Thursday in the Powertown.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Junior Kevin Luippold moves over to shorstop this season for Greenfield High School.

Teams throughout western Massachusetts have battled through their respective baseball and softball tournaments, and today, on the campus of UMass, the remaining clubs will fight for sectional supremacy.

Of the 12 remaining teams in three divisions in baseball and softball, four call Franklin County home. Turners Falls High School will attempt to become the first school in the county to win titles in both sports during the same season, the Greenfield High School baseball team will try to defend its WMass championship, and the Frontier Regional School softball team will try to play spoiler against top-seeded Hampshire Regional High School.

Here’s a look at each of the four games featuring local teams:

Baseball

Division IV

No. 5 Turners Falls (12-11)

vs. No. 3 Hopkins (12-9)

Lorden Field, 10:30 a.m.

This is the inaugural WMass Division IV championship, after the section expanded statewide in the offseason. It features two teams that are very familiar with one another as rivals in the Hampshire League’s West Division, meaning they have already met twice. Turners and Hopkins split the regular-season series — Hopkins earned a 5-1 win on May 8, but Turners avenged that setback in the regular-season finale with a 5-3 victory.

That win triggered a postseason resurgence for the Indians, who started the regular season 6-3 but suffered through a tough second-half stretch, going just 3-8. However, Turners won its final two regular-season games and is now riding a five-game winning streak into today’s game.

The Indians only managed to qualify for the tournament because of the 70-percent rule. If a team plays 70 percent or more of its assigned schedule vs. teams from higher divisions, it must win 50 percent of its games vs. teams in the same division. Turners was 4-1 vs. Division IV teams.

Turners does not have a power-hitting offensive lineup, but has gotten the job done with timely hitting, solid pitching and near-flawless defense. The Indians have outscored their three postseason opponents 8-2 over 26 innings — they opened with a 3-1 first-round win over 12th-seeded Putnam Vocational, and then needed 12 innings to topple No. 4 Granby, 2-1, in the quarterfinals. In Thursday’s semifinal, the Indians dispatched top-seeded Smith Academy, 3-0.

Turners will likely go with ace Tyler Charboneau today, and he has been on fire of late, including his sixth-inning heroics against Smith Academy. He entered in relief with nobody out and the bases loaded, and proceeded to strike out the side to protect the 3-0 lead. Because of the 12-inning affair against Granby in which the team used both its top two pitchers, No. 2 pitcher Nick York is also available for today’s game. The biggest concern facing both teams is that the 10:30 starting time overlaps with SATs, and despite numerous player conflicts (including four from Turners), the MIAA refused to move it.

As for Hopkins, it is a little more balanced between offense and pitching. Like the Indians, Hopkins should have its top starters available for today’s game after No. 3/4 starter Jonathan Morrison, an eighth-grader, pitched well in the Golden Hawks’ 6-5 semifinal win over Gateway Regional on Wednesday. Starters Andrew Omer and John Jacques are both possibilities, but Hopkins coach Jordan Branson was unwilling to disclose his starter on Friday, although he noted that two HL West teams that went a combined 18-20 in the regular season are now playing for a WMass title.

“I think that the division is really strong and I think that any questions that were made early on with the whole realignment, as to whether Turners Falls and Hopkins belonged in the same division with Greenfield, Frontier and South Hadley, has been answered,” said Branson. “It seems to have been a good choice. I thought it was a good choice from the beginning, but I understood the concerns with two Division IV teams playing in a division with all Division III teams.”

Division III

No. 6 Greenfield (17-6) vs.

No. 1 Monument Mt. (17-3)

Lorden Field, 4:30 p.m.

The Green Wave returns to the finals after it captured the 2013 Division II crown with a 2-0 victory over Mt. Greylock.

Realignment included expansion to four postseason divisions and eliminated Division II in WMass, so Greenfield and many of the Division II schools moved to Division III this season. Division IV includes most of the former Division III schools, although some teams from the former Division III have remained (Frontier and Mahar, locally). This year’s D-III tournament may have not only been the toughest field of any of the spring tournaments, but one of the deepest.

The Spartans — who have never won a WMass baseball title — put together a solid season in the always-tough Berkshire North and earned a bye to the quarterfinals, where they knocked off eighth-seeded Wahconah Regional, 7-3. Monument followed that up with a 4-2 semifinal victory over Athol on Thursday night.

Greenfield, meanwhile, has been a nightmare for Berkshire teams this postseason, picking off two on its way to the title game. It opened with a 4-0 first-round victory over No. 11 Hoosac Valley, then rallied to beat No. 3 Southwick, its lone non-Berkshire opponent, 5-3. On Wednesday, Greenfield toppled No. 2 Drury, 7-2. The Wave now tries to finish off a string of three straight wins over the top three seeds.

Last season, Greenfield went with senior ace Garrett Hudson in the title game, but this season it does not have that luxury, having used him in the first and third games. That means the ball will go to either Parker Hickey or Drew Barisano, with Hickey sounding like the likely candidate according to coach Tom Suchanek. Hickey started and pitched well in the quarterfinal win over Southwick, and after not pitching in the first half of the season, has emerged as a reliable No. 2 for the Green Wave. That has helped spark Greenfield to one of its hottest runs in recent memory. After starting the season 5-5, Greenfield has gone 12-1 in its past 13 games. One cause for concern is the status of starting catcher and leadoff hitter Jake Elwell, who left Wednesday’s win after suffering an ankle injury. He will try to give it a go today.

Monument, meanwhile, is also dealing with injury issues, namely the loss of one of its top players in shortstop and co-captain Bobby Kinne, who suffered a concussion on a collision in the game against Wahconah and has already been ruled out of today’s game. As for today’s starter for Monument, it’s likely to be Peter Oggiani, who pitched well against Wahconah, giving up three earned runs on seven hits over six innings.

Softball

Division II

No. 3 Frontier (18-2) vs.

No. 1 Hampshire (18-3)

Sortino Field, 2 p.m.

This is a matchup of former Franklin County League rivals.

Up until this season, Hampshire, Frontier and Turners Falls were the FCL’s Big Three. The Red Raiders — who were easily the biggest school in the FCL — were then realigned into the five-team Suburban League with schools more comparable to them in size, and still won the league title. Their only blemishes during the regular season were against SL rival Ludlow (2-1) and independent foes Westfield (9-8) and Agawam (5-1), all Division I schools.

Hampshire, which is making its fourth appearance in the finals in the past five seasons, received a quarterfinal bye and advanced to today’s championship tilt with a 3-0 win over Southwick on Tuesday.

Senior Anna Dziok, one of several veterans on the squad, delivered a big two-run single in the fifth inning to help give the Raiders some breathing room.

Sophomore Alexis Ferris, who took over as the full-time starter later in the season, has pitched brilliantly. She’s struck out 146 batters in just 90 2/3 innings of work (11.3 strikeouts per seven innings), and recorded a perfect game against Chicopee Comp on May 15.

What makes Hampshire even tougher is a group of veterans who are solid contact hitters. In addition to Dziok, Savannah Waters leads the offense with a .458 average and .778 slugging percentage, and Chelsea Mousette (.383, .444), Katie O’Connor, (.345, .582) and Marissa McCarthy (.328, .493) are also tough outs.

Hampshire also beat FCL champion Turners Falls twice (3-2 and 4-0), so the Red Hawks clearly have their work cut out for them.

Frontier’s postseason has been interesting, to say the least.

The Hawks beat Wahconah, 9-8, with a walk-off hit in a contest that featured four lead changes during a mostly heavy rain, then beat Palmer 6-5 to reach the finals for the first time in eight seasons.

If Frontier finds a way to win this contest, Caitlyn Sullivan and Cassidy Ciesluk will likely play a factor offensively. Caitlyn Sullivan (.476, .683) is 5-for-7 with two doubles and five RBIs in the postseason, while Ciesluk (.478, .739) has been equally impressive, going 5-for-7 with a double and three RBIs. Hannah Adams has also been solid, going 4-for-9. Courtney Newsome, Gwen Thayer and pitcher McKayla Poissant also need to come through when called upon.

Poissant (78 strikeouts in 83 regular season innings) had a solid performance in the Palmer semifinal with six strikeouts and one walk, but she also walked six against Wahconah. Hitting her spots and keeping the Red Raiders’ big hitters from doing any major damage will be paramount.

Division III

No. 3 Turners Falls (21-2)

vs. No. 5 Pathfinder (21-2)

Sortino Field, 4 p.m.

One team has a storied postseason history, the other has never gotten this far in the postseason — ever. That’s the main story line when the dynastic Indians meet the upstart Pioneers in today’s Division III final.

Turners has made so many trips to UMass, many have joked that the Indians should include it on their schedule before the season even begins — their goal every year is to get there, and eventually to Worcester State for the state championship. When a team has won 15 sectional titles and advanced to 11 state championship games, expectations are understandably high.

The Indians are still angry about losing last year’s title game to Mt. Everett, and all signs pointed toward a much-anticipated rematch – until Pathfinder crashed the party.

But the Pioneers aren’t your typical Tri-County League club, and Jenna Maska certainly isn’t your typical TCL pitcher. The senior left-handed fireballer — who will attend Division II Dominican College in Orangeburg, N.Y., in the fall — has amassed over 1,000 strikeouts in her impressive career and thrown six no-hitters this season alone, including one in the first-round tournament win over Smith Academy.

Some will undoubtedly question the competition Maska has faced over her career, but Pathfinder has tested itself this year with tough independent foes – she allowed only five hits to Central Mass. power Quaboag Regional, but the defense made three costly errors in a 7-0 loss, and she chucked a one-hit shutout in a 4-0 win over Division II semifinalist Southwick. They also captured the State Small School Vocational Tournament championship with wins over Eastern Mass. tech school toughies Upper Cape Cod Tech and Norfolk Agricultural. And on Wednesday, the last of the naysayers were silenced when Maska blanked top-seeded Mt. Everett on just three hits while striking out 10.

Maska isn’t just a great pitcher — she’s also proven herself at plate as well, batting .574 during the regular season with a gaudy 1.049 slugging percentage, five home runs and 37 RBIs. While she hasn’t put up close to the same numbers in the postseason (2-for-8, triple, homer, three RBIs), she is clearly a dual threat.

But Maska can’t do it alone, and if the Pioneers are going to pull the upset, they need production from the likes of Stephanie Hastie (.556, .603) and Samantha Squires (.482, .786), among others.

The Indians, meanwhile, will pin their hopes on sophomore right-hander Mackenzie Phillips, who has been solid in the circle thus far in the postseason. After a no-hitter against Smith Vocational in the first round, Phillips has thrown a one-hitter against St. Joseph’s of Pittsfield and a three-hitter against Monson, striking out 20 and walking only one in the two games.

Although sophomore Jenna Putala and junior Amber Caouette have carried the offense at times, freshman Gabby Arzuaga has started to display her limitless potential on the big stage, smacking four hits and driving in four runs during the past two games.

All three, along with seniors Emma Johnson and Morgan Ozdarski, are key for Turners if it intends to extend the season by at least one game.

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