PLYMOUTH — A trip to Forges Field provides a refreshing escape for softball and baseball fans in what has been a challenging time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bustling parking lots filled with empty cars stemmed from a single zigzagging path. Parents and siblings lined the scattered fields, blissfully watching the game they love despite the 95-degree heat.
At the end of the path, an 18U South Shore Softball League matchup between Plymouth 1 (7-0) and Norwell (2-5) – which Plymouth won, 12-3, Wednesday evening – resembled a high school softball game in many ways. The cheering and chatter from the players was just as strong, the coaches and fans just as engaged, and the umpire’s calls just as clear.
Of course some of those players were sitting on the bench and some in nearby bleachers to practice social distancing. Coaches wore masks and fans were asked to sit far apart from one another and behind a marked-off area. The umpire, already wearing a full uniform, was sweating even more through the mask covering his face.
This is softball in 2020. It takes some getting used to, but everyone involved was in agreement: It’s infinitely better than no softball at all.
“With [the coronavirus] and everything, we don’t really get to go out much, so this gives us an outlet to do something,” said Maggie Ladd, a rising junior at Plymouth North. “We’re all really close, and we always have fun. We’ve all played together forever.”
The SSSL, which has been around since 1999, has always served as a relaxing yet competitive way for players on the South Shore to stay fresh and sharpen their skills in the summer. Games aren’t as intense as high school or Amateur Athletic Union contests, yet they still feature the high level of play that fans in the area are accustomed to.
League president Pete Barone said the pandemic has made this summer season the most challenging ever. Drawing up specific guidelines was a painstaking task, and getting everyone on the same page hasn’t been easy, but it’s been well worth it.
“Currently, softball is one of the only youth sports that is allowed to actually play games,” Barone said. “Other sports are watching how we handle this, and most of the coaches and towns have done a great job with all of it.”
The specific teams change each year, and Plymouth 1, Silver Lake (5-2-1), Abington (5-3), East Bridgewater (3-3-1), Kingston (3-4-1), Plymouth 2 (3-4), Norwell, and Duxbury (0-7-1) are all involved this season. Through seven games, Plymouth 1 has outscored its opponents, 89-26, running away with every victory outside of a 1-0 triumph over Silver Lake on Monday, July 20.
Kylee Hefner, a rising junior at Plymouth North, tossed eight shutout innings in that one. Offensively, she took advantage of the International Tiebreaker rule, starting on second in the eighth and scoring the go-ahead run.
On Wednesday, Hefner dazzled against Norwell, pitching five scoreless innings to earn the win. Plymouth broke the game open with a 7-run fourth, as Ladd provided an RBI single, Morgan Brenner brought home Cali Kingsley and Ladd, and Hannah Masterson added an RBI triple.
Hope Josti, Lizzy Carnes, and Amy Kiernan all scored for Norwell in the sixth, but Plymouth center fielder Jenna Crowell made a smooth diving catch with the bases loaded to limit the damage.
Plymouth head coach Merlin Ladd, Maggie’s father, certainly enjoys winning games, though that isn’t why he coaches this team. He lets the players do the lineup, and sometimes they even choose their own positions.
“They still play competitively, but it’s a lot more relaxed for them,” he said. “They’re free to enjoy.”