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Familiar foe, Hopedale, awaits Thunder

  • The Turners Falls dugout cheers on their team during the WMass Division III softball championship game Saturday at Sortino Field at UMass Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls baserunner Taryn Thayer crosses home plate for a run in the bottom of the second inning against Mount Everett during their WMass Division III softball championship game Saturday at Sortino Field at UMass Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls batter Abby Loynd (14) connects against Taconic in the bottom of the fifth inning during the WMass Division III softball championship game Saturday at Sortino Field at UMass Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls baserunner Olivia Whittier (3) slides safely into third base in the bottom of the fourth inning Saturday during the WMass Division III softball championship game at Sortino Field at UMass Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

  • Turners Falls shortstop Taylor Murphy throws to first base for an out in the top of the second inning against Mount Everett during Saturday’s WMass Division III softball championship game at Sortino Field at UMass Amherst. Recorder Staff/Dan Little

Recorder Staff
Published: 6/18/2018 11:27:22 PM

No, it’s not deja vu. Yes, Turners Falls High School will play Hopedale High School today in the MIAA Division III state softball semifinals.

For the second consecutive year — and for the third time in four springs — the two teams will lock horns after winning their sectional crowns.

The Thunder (20-3) and central Massachusetts champion Blue Raiders (14-9) will meet today at 5 p.m. at Worcester State University’s Rockwood Field.

The Thunder hope that the teams’ third meeting in four years goes just as well as each of the past two. Turners Falls has won the past two meetings against Hopedale and moved on to play in the state-championship game. In 2014, Turners bested Hopedale, 3-1, and moved on to the state finals, where they beat Millis High School, 5-3. The three-time defending state champions from the Powertown avoided Hopedale in 2016, beating Tahanto Regional High School (6-0) and Austin Preparatory High School (2-0) to win the state title. In 2017, Turners again faced Hopedale and clawed and scratched its way past the Blue Raiders for a 2-1 victory before moving on to knock off Austin Prep for the second straight season, this time by a 2-1 score.

All of that is in the past, according to Turners Falls coach Gary Mullins, who said he and his team have not discussed the recent history with Hopedale. Instead, Mullins has focused on cleaning up some of the problems he believes can help make his team the best it can be.

“Honestly, we really haven’t gotten into Hopedale and what we’ve done,” he said. “I tell the girls that if we play the way we are capable of playing, we will be fine.”

Offensively, Turners Falls has been a force in its three tournament games, which saw the Thunder score 36 runs. The team has a .411 tournament batting average, led by Taryn Thayer, who hit .750 in the final two games after coming on to play second base during the Thunder’s 12-3 semifinal win over Mt. Greylock Regional High School. Olivia Whittier, who was named Gary Stacy MVP of the WMass championship game, hit .700 in the tournament with five RBIs and a team-high five runs scored. Jade Tyler hit .625 and leads the squad with six tourney RBIs.

“We’ve hit the ball hard,” Mullins lauded. “In the finals, we didn’t hit any out, but we hit the ball right on the nose.”

The offensive output has been there all season for the Thunder. Tyler leads the team in hitting at .532 and also has nine home runs and 35 RBIs to lead the team in both categories as well. The power numbers are also staggering. As a team, Turners is slugging .561, which measures total bases divided by at bats. Turners has hit 25 home runs as a team, with eight players hitting at least one. Both Tyler and Peyton Emery smashed home runs at Sortino Field in the semifinal win over Mt. Greylock as the team showed off its power away from the friendly confines of the Bourdeau Fields Complex.

Areas where Mullins could look for improvement are the team’s fielding and pitching. Tyler and Emery have been splitting time in the circle during the tournament and both have been good, although Mullins would like to see both cut down on walks. The defense has not cost the Thunder any significant damage, but again, Mullins would like it to tighten up and cut down on errors.

Hopedale, which like the Thunder wears blue and white uniforms, has had much more of a roller-coaster season than Turners, which figured to be playing in the state tournament before the season began. At one point in mid-May, the Blue Raiders sat at 5-9 overall and were a loss away from missing out on the tournament, but the team won its final five regular-season games to get into the central Mass. tourney, where it was awarded the No. 9 seed (remember, seeds are based on records alone in central Mass.) in the 12-team field. Hopedale opened the tournament with a 4-0 win over Oxford High School, then beat top-seeded Millbury, 8-4, in the quarterfinals. The Blue Raiders then beat fifth-seeded Assabet Valley Regional High School, 3-2, in the semifinals, before knocking off third-seeded Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School, 11-5, in the finals.

“I think they are quite a bit like us,” Mullins said of his upcoming opponent. They have a nice little pitcher and they can hit. They put three or four balls off the fence in the game I saw them play (in the regular season). They have a little pop in their bats. We are going to have to play better than we have been.”

It’s possible that both starting pitchers could be freshmen. While Turners Falls’ starter remains up in the air, Hopedale will send freshman Bianca Finch to the mound. In the CMass title game, Finch allowed five runs on 10 hits and five walks, while striking out 10. She is not overpowering, but mixes her pitches well and can locate the ball.

Hopedale made life easier on the first-year pitcher in the title game by striking for six runs in the top of the first inning to set the tone. Monty Tech did score twice in the bottom of the frame, but Finch did not allow another run until the seventh.

Like Turners, Hopedale can hit throughout the lineup but has some talented batters at the top. Lena Swift hits leadoff and went 2-for-5 in the title game, scoring the game’s first run and coming up again later in the first inning and roping a two-run single. Kathleen Maloney, who hits third in the lineup, also had two hits and two RBIs in the title game.

The winner will of this evening’s game will advance to Saturday’s MIAA Division III state championship game against the winner of today’s other semifinal between Austin Prep and Abington High School.

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