Wolverines eliminate Green Wave with 4-2 win in eight innings

  • Greenfield shortstop Samantha Smith throws out a Leicester runner in the top of the second inning Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy throws in the top of the first inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield second baseman Raegan Hickey (5) tosses to first baseman Kelsey Richardson (29) for an out against Leicester in the top of the second inning Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield teammates congratulate Raegan Hickey (5) after her two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield’s Raegan Hickey (5) hits a 2-run home run in the bottom of the fourth inning against Leicester on Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield shortstop Samantha Smith (9) fields a throw at second base as Leicester’s Caitlin Kemp (4) slides in safely ahead of the tag in the top of the third inning Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy (10) throws in the top of the third inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield third baseman Audrey Bresciano (4) throws to first in the top of the third inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy (10) throws in the top of the fouth inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy (10) throws in the top of the first inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy (10) throws in the top of the fouth inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield’s Lizzy Howland (27) singles in the bottom of the fourth inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy (10) throws in the top of the fifth inning against Leicester Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield lines up before their game against Leicester on Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Greenfield shortstop Samantha Smith (9) just misses a running attempt at a foul ball in the top of the fifth inning Tuesday afternoon at Sortino Field in Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/19/2018 11:36:49 PM

AMHERST — There was never a doubt in Rian Lovett’s mind that her Greenfield High School softball team was going to pull off a win Tuesday afternoon. The Green Wave fell behind early, only to tie the game in dramatic fashion.

But extra innings are the ultimate unknown, the tension intensifies. Things can change in a hurry.

Despite totaling just two hits through seven innings, Leicester High School erupted for three in a four-batter span in the top of the eighth, including a two-run, go-ahead single by Ally O’Neill that ultimately proved to be the difference. The Central Massachusetts-champion Wolverines brought Greenfield’s outstanding season to a halt, picking up a 4-2 win in the MIAA Division II semifinal at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass.

Greenfield, WMass champions for the first time since 1986, finished its season with a 19-3 overall record. Leicester (19-6) advanced to Saturday’s state-title game against Greater New Bedford, set for 3:30 p.m. at Worcester State University’s Rockwood Field.

“We fought for eight innings, so there’s absolutely no reason for the girls to hang their heads,” explained Lovett. “It was an unbelievable season. No matter what happened today, I kept thinking we were going to come back and win the game. I just thought we were going to win. But no matter what the outcome, it was a heck of a season.”

Greenfield, which committed five errors, didn’t do itself any favors early. Leicester struck for a pair of unearned runs in the top of the second inning, building a 2-0 advantage despite not hitting the ball out of the infield. The Wolverines went with some small ball, and the Wave infield struggled with execution.

“Usually we make those plays. Unfortunately, today we didn’t,” Lovett said. “And unfortunately, it was on the big stage.”

Hannah Gallant led off the second with a cue shot up the first-base line that was mishandled, and Kya Birtz followed with a sacrifice bunt. Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy fielded the ball and came up throwing to first, but her heave was off the mark and sailed up the right-field line. The ball kept on rolling, however, as right fielder Hannah Marchefka was unable to make a play behind first, and Gallant managed to come all the way around from first base to score with Birtz eventually zooming into third. Alex Dufries followed with an RBI groundout to second base, and Leicester took charge with a quick 2-0 lead.

“It’s always good to put some pressure on the other team, especially early,” offered Leicester coach David Stanick of the second-inning small-ball. “They made a couple of mistakes and we were able to take advantage of that. You want to force them to make plays. (Greenfield) settled down eventually but we got off to a good start.”

The Wave avoided further damage, as Joy wiggled out of danger in the third inning and kept Leicester off the board until her offense came through in the fourth.

Leicester made an error of its own at first base, prolonging the frame. With two outs and Kirsten Ward at first base, junior second baseman Raegan Hickey strode to the plate. Hickey, who admitted she’s struggled of late, suggested to Lovett that she try to bunt for a hit. The head coach rejected her request.

“I wanted to bunt but she told me, ‘No, go up there and hit the ball hard,’” Hickey recalled.

The three-sport standout smiled as she walked to the plate following Lovett’s instructions. That smile only widened a few pitches later, when Hickey lined a Birtz pitch down the left-field line. The ball flew out of the park, sliding inside the foul pole and over the fence for a two-run, game-tying home run that pulled the Wave even, 2-2. She was mobbed by her teammates at home plate, giving the squad new life.

“I told her I have all the confidence in the world in her so go out and hit the ball,” Lovett recalled of the conversation leading up to the Hickey at-bat.

With new life, Greenfield continued to dance around danger in the field. Leicester left five runners on base over the next three innings, including a dicey situation in the fifth when the first two batters reached via a single and a walk. After a sacrifice bunt from Maddie Hippert moved two into scoring position with one out. However, Joy got a liner to first baseman Kelsey Richardson and a bunt was cleaned up just in front of home plate to keep the game even.

Greenfield’s best scoring chance the rest of the way came in the bottom of the fifth. Heather Catlin led off with a walk, took second on a wild pitch, and moved to third on a Racquel Provost groundout with one out. But Birtz, just a freshman, buckled down and struck out Audrey Bresciano before inducing a Samantha Smith groundout to second.

“We couldn’t string two hits together when we needed to,” Lovett offered. “We’ve come up with timely hitting all year. We just didn’t have it today.”

The teams matched zeroes into the top of the eighth, when Gallant blooped a lead-off single and Birtz followed with a base hit of her own. Another sacrifice bunt from Dufries moved the pair up, and this time, O’Neill came through for the Wolverines with a two-run single over the head of Catlin in left field to give the central Massachusetts champs a 4-2 advantage.

“All day they were playing so deep in the outfield,” began Stanick of Greenfield. “They must know that we can hit the ball a little bit. But we dropped a couple in front of them and then the one time they moved everyone in, we were able to get one over their heads. That’s softball.”

Greenfield was unable to generate any offense in its final at-bat. Bresciano’s gapper was hauled in on a nice catch by Hippert in center field to open the inning, and Birtz got a strikeout and groundout to seal the deal and send Leicester into the state final.

“We had a great season,” Hickey lauded. “Next season, hopefully we’ll be right back here.”

Joy went all eight innings in the pitching circle, striking out eight and walking five while allowing five hits. Birtz also struck out eight and walked a pair, limiting Greenfield to four hits.


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