Keeping Score with Chip Ainsworth: Observations from Turners Falls softball's 11th state championship

Published: 06-21-2024 4:09 PM

Good morning!

Observations from Sortino Field in Amherst, where Turners Falls High School coach Gary Mullins’ squad beat Georgetown High School, 5-0, to win the MIAA Division 5 state title on Saturday. The first pitch was at 12:01 p.m., the final out was recorded at 2:06 p.m. and everything in-between was the Madi Liimatainen show.

Nobody thought it would end like this, not in April when they looked like the Bad News Bears. Surely it would be Tech’s turn with pitcher Hannah Gilbert, or Greenfield again with MacKenzie Paulin.

Two seniors, twins Anne and Ella Kolodziej, hadn’t played since grade school, and left fielder Autumn Thornton is a seventh grader. “The first baseman stood like a totem pole, never knew to stretch for the ball, and the shortstop didn’t move. The ball had to be hit directly to her, but Gary did his magic,” said Warren Thomas, who’d often chauffeur George Bush and Stash Koscinski to the games.

Mullins built a fundamentally sound team around Madi the Wonder Woman, and the Thunder got better as the season progressed. 

Thanks to the luck of the bracket draw and a massive upset — Tahanto Regional over GHS — the stage was set for another banner to wave over Mullins Field.

“I’m more nervous than I am coaching,” said Thunder volleyball coach Kelly (Yankowski) Liimatainen, who played on the ’04 championship team.  

Ten titles and 20 years later, she stood a few feet from the home team’s dugout where her stepdaughter was waiting to pitch. 

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After the national anthem, two of Liimatainen’s teammates ran onto the field, jumped up and clicked heels. Let’s get this thing started, they seemed to be saying.

The Royals’ only chance to take a lead was in the top of the first inning when they loaded the bases on two walks and a single, but a two-out popup by Jenna Johnson to shortstop Mia Marigiano ended the threat.

Liimatainen proceeded to retire 18 of the next 19 batters, struck out 14 and allowed just the first inning hit. At the plate she reached base all four times, walked twice, reached on an error and keyed a four-run rally with a two-run single in the second inning.

Her performance made the sports pages from Greenfield to Springfield, over to Boston and up to Newburyport. “She wants to play college softball but has no idea where at this time,” said her father Jay.

According to one source Merrimack is on her radar, but she still has one season left to enjoy the thrill of being the pride of the Powertown.

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Ephs publicist Dick Quinn reports that Williams College was runner-up to Johns Hopkins in the D-III Learfield Directors' Cup standings. Sponsored by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA), the Director’s Cup ranks schools in order of their overall success in collegiate athletics.

Four other D-III schools from Massachusetts made the top 50 out of 322 members: Tufts (4), MIT (7), Amherst (27) and Babson (49).

Grand Valley State of Michigan was tops of the 238 members in Division II. Assumption and Bentley tied for 85th, Saint Anselm was 135th, AIC was 238th, and for some reason Springfield College was nowhere to be found.

Texas was first in Division I, followed by Stanford and Tennessee. Three Massachusetts schools — Harvard (28), BC (66), and BU (93) made the top 100; UMass tied with 13 others for 210th out of 254.

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WFAN’s Joe Beningo is a diehard New York sports fan. “I am 70 years old, soon to be 71. I have come to the realization that I have seen the last championship that I have ever seen in my lifetime. None of my teams as long as I am walking the earth will win another title. So if you are a fan of the Mets, the Jets, the Knicks or the Rangers, don’t expect to see any championships as long as I am breathing.”

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The local American Legion baseball season is underway and John J Galvin Post 81 has two full rosters of Seniors and Juniors aged 14 to 19 playing at Vets Field. Former GHS catcher Alex Siano is coaching the Seniors and Franklin Tech’s Dan Prasol is in charge of the Juniors. 

Post 81 has had 38 winning seasons in its 41 years of existence. The program’s run by Bill and Kyle Phelps, together with Post 81 Commander Sandy Magill, and Vets Field is maintained by Tom Suchanek and Chris Arsenault. The PA announcers are Sean Callaghan, Josie Cloutier and Cassie Cloutier. 

The players hail from GHS, Pioneer, Frontier, Williston, Holyoke Community College, Mahar, Mohawk, TFHS, Deerfield Academy, Eaglebrook and NMH.

Games are played almost every week night at 5:45 p.m., and admission is free. This year’s state finals are at Fitton Field in Worcester.

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High school sports archivist Mike Cadran reports: “Based on the records I found, TFHS softball coach Gary Mullins is the state’s all time wins leader with a 783-170 record, and GHS baseball coach Tom Suchanek is 692-375 and trails only Frank Carey of North Reading who was 736-278.”

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SQUIBBERS: Bryson DeChambeau stuck around and signed autographs for 2 1/2 hours after his improbable U.S. Open win. … Rory McIlroy dropped out of the lead by missing two three-foot putts in the final three holes. When Jack Nicklaus was asked how he missed a similarly short putt, the Golden Bear replied, “The same way you do.” … Coming to UMass was like old home days for Georgetown coach Jay Santomassino, who looked at the high-rises and said, “The scary part is coming here and seeing Southwest. I’m not allowed back there.” … The temperature at Alumni Field in Keene was in the mid-90s at noon time on Tuesday, and the baseball campers were finished for the day. “Hey Norm,” a supervisor  yelled, “I made an announcement that everyone’s invited to come use your pool. Every kid here.” Norm didn’t laugh. … A ticket to the College World Series today at 24,000-seat Charles Schwab Field in Omaha cost $309 plus fees. … NY Post columnist Kirsten Fleming on the Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez breakup after first wife Jennifer Garner gave up on him:  “On June 29, 2005, Jennifer Garner married the man who would become her fourth child.” … The son of a railroad porter, Willie Mays served two years in the Army before he became the greatest ballplayer who ever lived. A quote by Reggie Jackson in the New York Times obituary summed up that greatness: “You used to think that if the score was 5-0, he’d hit a five-run homer.”… The 60s Channel on Sirius-XM this week dedicated "Young Girl" by Gary Puckett & the Union Gap to that old fox Bill Belichick.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet715@icloud.com