Turners frustrated in state final loss to Austin Prep

  • Turners Falls’ Aly Murphy hits a single against Austin Prep in the top of the sixth inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls captains receive the finalist trophy Saturday after their game against Austin Prep for the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls captains receive the finalist trophy Saturday after their game against Austin Prep for the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves presents finalist medals to the team Saturday after their game against Austin Prep for the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls athletic director Adam Graves presents finalist medals to the team Saturday after their game against Austin Prep for the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls pitcher Jade Tyler throws against Austin Prep in the bottom of the second inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls’ Taylor Murphy hits a single against Austin Prep in the top of the sixth inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls shorst Cassidhe Wozniak makes an over the shoulder grab for an out against Austin Prep in the bottom of the first inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls catcher Aly Murphy tags out Austin Prep baserunner Brianna Meroli at home plate in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls second baseman Taylor Murphy fields a throw at first base for an out against Austin Prep in the bottom of the third inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Austin Prep baserunner Francesca Frelick slides into third base ahead of the tag from Turners Falls’ Cassidhe Wozniak in the bottom of the fifth inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls’ Hailey Bogusz runs to grab a fly ball in right field for an out against Austin Prep in the bottom of the fourth inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls second baseman Taylor Murphy fields a grounder for an out against Austin Prep in the bottom of the first inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls pitcher Jade Tyler throws against Austin Prep in the bottom of the first inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls’ Hailey Bogusz reels in a fly ball in right field for an out against Austin Prep in the bottom of the third inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls catcher Aly Murphy, right, talks with pitcher Jade Tyler on the mound Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls head coach Gary Mullins talks with his team on the mound Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls pitcher Jade Tyler throws against Austin Prep in the bottom of the first inning Saturday during the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls players line up prior to their game against Austin Prep on Saturday for the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Turners Falls players line up prior to their game against Austin Prep on Saturday for the Division 3 state final at Worcester State University. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/22/2019 5:35:33 PM

WORCESTER — For Austin Preparatory School, the third time was indeed the charm.

After disappointing championship-game losses in 2016 and 2017, the Cougars finally broke through against nine-time state champion Turners Falls on Saturday.

Austin Prep pitcher Serena Gilbride scattered seven hits over seven innings, keeping the Thunder off the board in what will go down as one of the more frustrating state finals in Powertown program history. Timely hitting, including a two-run double from Frankie Frelick in the bottom of the fifth inning, and steady defense behind Gilbride propelled the Cougars to a 3-0 victory in the MIAA Division 3 final at Worcester State University’s Rockwood Field.

Turners, which fell to 9-8 all time in state championship games, finished its season 22-3 overall. It was the program’s second consecutive runner-up finish after winning three straight titles from 2015-2017.

“I didn’t think we’d shut them out,” began Turners head coach Gary Mullins. “I was pretty confident we couldn’t shut them out so I knew we were going to have to score some runs. And we didn’t. It's discouraging, but reality.”

Turners was unable to run its winning streak in state finals against Austin Prep (24-2) to three, as the Cougars captured the program’s first state title after runner-up showings in 2016 and 2017.

“Honestly, the girls that remember 2016 and 2017, we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about it,” Austin Prep coach Frank Sorrenti admitted. “We kind of knew (Turners) was going to be here. It was hard for us to get here. But I’ll tell you, this team was not afraid of anybody all season long. We had some tough games along the way, they stood up to it and accepted the challenge.”

Gilbride frustrated the Thunder all afternoon. The Turners offense was out in front consistently, and that led to a whopping 12 fly ball outs. Despite putting runners in scoring position in four different innings, the WMass champions could not push a run across in a state final for the second time in as many years.

“We just couldn’t hit the ball,” offered Turners sophomore second baseman Taylor Murphy, who was 2-for-3 at the plate to help lead the cause. “(Gilbride’s) a decent pitcher. She pitches 45 miles per hour, we’ve seen 62 (mph) this season. We should’ve crushed the ball. They’ve got really good defense. We just couldn’t hit the ball, I guess. We had some good hits but we couldn’t get them to the right spots to get our runs going.”

Turners struck out just once, but Gilbride didn’t issue a walk and the Cougars committed just one error behind her. That formula, along with timely hitting, was enough to get the job done.

“We’ve had a mantra all season of solid pitching, flawless defense and timely hitting and that’s what we did today and all season,” Sorrenti said of his club. “That’s not what happened to us in 2016 and 2017… we got to this game and we made mistakes you can’t make in a tight game. You have to be mistake-free and hit when it’s time to do that. I told the girls that if you can do that, we’ll be fine. Things will take care of themselves.”

Austin Prep scored the game’s first run in the bottom of the third inning. Lauren Sablone singled, stole second base and took third on a sacrifice bunt by Alex Santostefano. First baseman Brianna Meroli followed with an RBI single on a 3-2 pitch, blooping a Jade Tyler changeup into shallow right field to give the Cougars a 1-0 lead.

It stayed that way until the fifth. With one out, Sablone roped a liner to left field that went off the glove of diving Turners left fielder Eliza Johnson, allowing Sablone to storm all the way around to third base. A walk to Santostefano and a stolen base led to a critical decision, and Mullins elected to intentionally walk Meroli with first base open to load the bags for catcher Frankie Frelick.

Frelick, a junior who is committed to play at Duke in two years, responded with a two-run double to left field, plating Sablone and Santostefano to up the advantage to 3-0. Turners’ relay into shortstop Cassidhe Wozniak was good, and the senior gunned out Meroli trying to score a third run on the play, but the damage was done.

“Frankie’s a five-tool player. I understand their strategy but for me, she’s dangerous in every situation,” Sorrenti said of walking Meroli to face Frelick. “She’s cooled off a little in the tournament but some of the others picked her up. That situation, I knew she was going to go up there with that resolve to make something happen and she did.”

Mullins said Meroli’s heavy bat, and her ability to hit home runs, made facing her with runners in scoring position an undesirable prospect.

“Yeah, we’re walking (the) three (hitter) to get to the four-hitter but having seen them, I was afraid of (Meroli) more than (Frelick),” Mullins explained. “That’s what I went with. I don’t think it was a bad decision but the girl caught me. OK, fine.”

Turners had chances to cut into the deficit late. Taylor Murphy led off the top of the sixth with a single, and Aly Murphy followed with a one-out single to put two runners on base. The play of the day defensively for the Cougars came against Turners’ Olivia Whittier. The sophomore roped what looked like an RBI single up the middle, but shortstop Ella Saracco dove to her left and got an out at second base to keep runners at the corners. Gilbride then got Hailey Bogusz to line out hard to Meroli at first base for the final out that kept the Thunder off the board.

“I was hoping. I wasn’t real confident we would, but I was hoping we would put one inning together,” said Mullins. “We had a couple innings, put some people on base and had some chances. But timely hitting wins games and we didn’t do that today. This squad can play defense. I thought, if we’re going to win in the pitcher’s circle, we’re going to win. But outside that, offensively and defensively, they might’ve had the edge.”

Catie Reynolds led off the top of the seventh with a single, and moved to second on Austin Prep’s lone error of the day. Gilbride retired the next three batters to end the game, however, capping her complete-game shutout.

“I thought we were going to (rally) at the end and it just didn’t happen,” said Taylor Murphy. “It’s very upsetting when you don’t get the runs you need and you don’t get the hits you need to win the game. There were definitely nerves but I feel like at this point, we’ve been here so many times before that it’s good nerves. We’re excited to be here, not afraid.”

Aly Murphy was 3-for-3 out of the clean-up spot in the Turners lineup. Taylor Murphy followed with her two hits, while Reynolds and Johnson also had singles. Both teams finished with seven hits.

Tyler impressed in the loss, as the sophomore right-hander struck out seven and walked four in a complete-game effort. She threw 92 pitches.

“Jade had a good day,” lauded Taylor Murphy of Tyler. “She was throwing strikes, she was doing what she needed to do. She did everything that she could’ve done as a pitcher.”

Turners’ frustration with its own bats was the story of the game, however. 

“I think they’re young kids that are in a big environment,” began Mullins. “And they’re excited, and they want to do well, and so you jump a little early and a fraction takes your timing off… you pop a lot of balls up. It’s forty-four, forty-five miles per hour, but you also get kids excited about hitting and they’re out in front. That’s what happened.”

It was the sixth consecutive appearance in a state final for Turners. There’s a strong chance that number could extend to seven next year, as the Powertown graduates just two players (Wozniak and Lexi Lacey) from its starting lineup.

“Next year, we’ll definitely have to find a new shortstop and a new first baseman but we have enough girls and enough talent to be right back here like we have every other year in the past,” Taylor Murphy said.

Mullins, who closed out his 40th season as head coach at Turners, agreed that the future remains bright for the program.

“We’re still pretty young. We lose two seniors but I don’t think we’re done being here,” he said. “You have to catch some breaks to get here, work just as hard as we did this year. But I’m not going to say we’ll be back here because it’s hard to get here. If it was easy, a lot of people would get here.”


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