High schools: Turners Falls baseball fights its way past Athol to win first league title in 31 years

Turners Falls catcher Kainen Stevens tags out Franklin Tech’s William Ainsworth at home at the Bourdeau Fields Complex in Turners Falls earlier this season.

Turners Falls catcher Kainen Stevens tags out Franklin Tech’s William Ainsworth at home at the Bourdeau Fields Complex in Turners Falls earlier this season. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 05-21-2024 4:03 PM

The Turners Falls baseball team hadn’t won a league championship since 1993. 

On Saturday against Athol, the Thunder had a chance to claim the Bi-County North ttile and raise a league championship banner for the first time in 31 years, as both teams entered the game 8-1 in league play.

With the way the Bears started the game, that goal was put in serious jeopardy. 

Athol opened up a 4-1 lead after two innings, and with ace Logan Cormier on the mound, the Bears were in good position to rip the title away from the Powertown. 

That’s when Dylen Richardson entered the game on the mound for the Thunder. Richardson allowed just one hit the rest of the way, keeping Athol from scoring another run. Turners proceeded to score one in the third, one in the fifth and one in the top of the seventh to force extra innings. 

After a scoreless eighth, Richardson and Alex Quezada cracked hits to put runners on and both scored on wild pitches in the top of the ninth. Turners closed things out in the bottom of the frame to take home the league title with a 6-4 triumph. 

“We kept chipping away,” Turners Falls coach Scott Minckler said. “We didn’t look good after the first two innings. I pulled them aside and told them we have a lot of ballgame left and that we needed to chip away. We did that. They fought hard and didn’t give up.” 

Winning the league was a goal to start the season, and Minckler noted how proud he was of his squad for getting the job done. 

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Turners opened the season with a loss to Bi-County North foe Franklin Tech. The Thunder didn't panic, winning their next nine league games to take the title. 

“It’s been 31 years,” Minckler said. “Going 31 years without winning a title is a long time. It feels fantastic. We put our goals out at the beginning of the season. One was to go 12-4, the second was to win our league and we’ve completed both of those. Now it's continuing to work. The kids played their butts off this year. It’s a testament to the grit they have. We’ve been down a few times this year but battled back to pull out some big wins. I’m super proud of them for how they’ve played all season.”

Richardson pitched seven innings in total, scattering just one hit to go with six strikeouts.

“Our starter didn’t have his stuff,” Minckler said. “Dylen came in and proceeded to give up just one hit. He just shut them down and gave us a chance to get back in the game.” 

Turners wasn’t the only local squad to capture a league title this spring. 

The Pioneer baseball team made the move over from the Bi-County North to the Suburban West and snatched the title there, finishing 9-1 in league play to run away with the crown. 

The Panthers made the step up in competition look effortless, outscoring Suburban West opponents 82-28 on their way to the league title. 

The two league champs — Pioneer and Turners — will square off on Thursday in the Western Mass. Class D semis in Northfield at 6 p.m. The two played during the season, with the Panthers squeaking out a 2-1 victory. 

On the softball fields, both Greenfield and Franklin Tech ran away with league championships. 

The back-to-back defending state champion Green Wave suffered an early-season loss to Frontier but that was the only time Greenfield left the field disappointed, winning its next 15 games to finish the season with a 17-1 record. The Green Wave went 9-1 in league play to take the Franklin County West title.

Greenfield earned an extra-inning win over Turners Falls but still finished the season with an 87-13 run differential in FCL West action. 

You’d be hard-pressed to find a team who dominated their league more than the Eagles. 

Franklin Tech finished 12-0 in the Franklin County League East, outscoring its opponents 184-26 in those games to run away with the league title. The Eagles finished the season with a 16-2 record, their two losses coming to Greenfield and Turners — the defending state champion and state runner-up — each by scores of 1-0. 

The Green Wave and Tech are on a collision course to rematch in the Western Mass. Class C finals, Greenfield the top seed and the Eagles the No. 2 seed. 

The Frontier track and field team also enjoyed dominant regular seasons en route to capturing league titles.

Both the Redhawk boys and girls went an unbeaten 7-0 in Intercounty League meets to win titles for the second year in a row. The teams also fared well at the Western Mass. Division 2 Championships last week at Mohawk Trail Regional. The girls’ team snagged a runner-up showing, amassing 82 points to finish only behind champion Mount Greylock (158). On the boys’ side, Frontier also took second place as a team, scoring 65.5 points. Mount Greylock also won that title, scoring 140 points on the afternoon.

Frontier will now set its sights on this weekend’s MIAA Division 6 Championships at Merrimack College (Thursday and Saturday).