Jaywalking: Parity abounds in FCL softball

Monday, May 08, 2017

What a week for the Greenfield High School softball team.

Last Monday, the Green Wave celebrated knocking off a Turners Falls High School team that had been as close to unbeatable as any team in recent memory. Greenfield followed that up two days later by allowing five home runs in a 10-6 loss to Athol High School, the first Green Wave loss of the season.

Those two games summed up what has been the most competitive Franklin County League, top-to-bottom, in the 11 years I’ve covered the league. Sure, there have been seasons where two — sometimes three — teams are competing for the top spot. This season, the league has five or six teams capable of beating anyone. They call that parity.

Just take a look at Greenfield. On Monday, the Green Wave posted a 2-1 win over a Turners Falls team that had not lost a league game in three-plus years. Turners Falls’ last FCL loss came on May 15, 2013, when it dropped a 12-0 decision to a Hampshire Regional High School team that is no longer even in the league. Coincidentally, that loss was actually the second league loss of the season for Turners Falls, which had lost to Frontier Regional School, 1-0, on May 1, exactly four years to the day that Greenfield earned its victory.

That stretch is pretty remarkable, but perhaps the most striking Turners Falls streak that came to an end with the loss to Greenfield was the eight years in which it did not lose two straight games. The loss to Greenfield last Monday actually came on the heels of a 3-1 loss to Wachusett High School. The last time Turners lost back-to-back games was in 2009, when it lost to Greenfield and Hampshire on May 12 and May 13. That’s a long time ago. Freshmen like Aly Murphy and Olivia Whittier, among others, were only six or seven years old back then.

The May 12, 2009 loss was also the last time Greenfield had defeated Turners Falls in softball, a span of 14 games. If you consider that prior to that 2009 win, Greenfield hadn’t defeated Turners Falls since 2004 (an 11-game Powertown winning streak), Turners Falls had won 25-of-26 games over 13 years.

“It was pretty sweet, the girls were so pumped for that game,” Green Wave coach Rian Lovett said. “I’ve never seen them more into a game. I think it was a really big moment for them because they realized the level of play they had to play at and I think they really realized how much they can accomplish.”

It was no surprise that Greenfield celebrated like it had won a more significant game.

“One of the goals you set for the season is to beat teams like Turners, because Turners is a team you look up to, a team you want to be like,” Lovett said. “It’s like winning a tournament game.”

What made the win even more special was that, for the first time all season, Green Wave assistant coach Taylor Lively called the pitches thrown by Greenfield pitcher Olivia Joy. What was special about that was that, besides being the younger sister of coach Lovett, Lively was also the starting pitcher for Greenfield back in 2009 when the Wave last knocked off Turners Falls. Last season, Lively began working some with Joy and Greenfield catcher Lizzy Howland, but this year she has worked with the two throughout the season. Lively had experience calling pitches, doing so while serving as an assistant coach at Castleton University in grad school. With that, the last Green Wave pitcher to beat Turners called the pitches for the most recent Green Wave pitcher to do so.

“I trust her to call the pitches because she probably knows the pitching better than I do,” Lovett said.

Although Lively selected the pitches thrown, it was Joy who executed them and she put forth perhaps her best outing ever at the varsity level. Only a sophomore, Joy hit 60 miles per hour on the gun more than 10 times in that game, which is fast, and left Howland with a bruised left hand.

“Throwing it that hard more than 10 times was awesome; it shows me and herself what she is capable of,” Lovett said.

Lovett said 60 miles per hour is probably five ticks faster than what she usually throws, and likely the league’s fastest. Lovett said that Joy puts in a lot of hard work, including working with local softball pitching guru Steve Putnam.

The game featured a number of other heroes, including another sophomore in Samantha Smith, who belted the two-run home run in the sixth inning and has firmly established herself as a three-sport star at the school, also starring in field hockey and basketball.

Joy, Smith and the rest of the team came crashing back down to earth two days later, when the Green Wave paid Athol High School a visit on a cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon. The Red Raiders proved to be ungracious hosts, belting the five bombs en route to a 10-6 win.

It served as a great reminder that anyone in the FCL can beat anyone else on any given day. Greenfield also only beat Pioneer, the fifth-place FCL team, by a 3-2 score earlier this season.

“There is some quality pitching and some really good hitters in this league, and it’s nice to have that,” Lively said. “I like the competition. It’s more fun and it’s more of a tournament-caliber league.”

It’s a real possibility that six, possibly even seven of the eight FCL teams will qualify for the postseason. But before the tournament season begins, we should be treated to a number of tournament-like games, including when Greenfield travels to Turners Falls one week from Thursday, and when Greenfield hosts Athol on Senior Night on May 23.

Be there or be square.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.