After a thrilling regular season, the MIAA softball tournament looms.
Division 1 holds several teams flush with talent, including Hockomock League Kelley-Rex powerhouses King Philip and Taunton. Divisions 2 through 5 feature top-level squads and a competitive field rife with challengers.
Favorites: No. 1 Central Catholic (19-1), No. 2 King Philip (20-2), No. 3 Taunton (19-1).
Sleepers: No. 8 Bridgewater-Raynham (17-3), No. 11 Woburn (17-3).
Players to watch: Abby Bettencourt (Peabody); Kelsey Blanchette (Lincoln-Sudbury); Bella Borque (Taunton); Caitlin Milner (Central Catholic); Libby Walsh (King Philip).
Best first round matchup: No. 17 Reading (12-8) at No. 16 Arlington (13-7).
Longest road trip: No. 24 New Bedford (11-9) at No. 9 Methuen (13-7) — 94.8 miles.
Analysis: Third-seeded Taunton looks to defend its state title for the third consecutive season with first-year coach Michelle Raposo at the helm. Texas Tech commit Sam Lincoln boasts an eye-popping 0.474 ERA with 175 strikeouts and senior captains Kaysie Demoura, Ava Venturelli, and Kyleah Plumb pace an offense that averages 11.7 runs per game. No. 1 Central Catholic and No. 2 King Philip feature two of the most balanced and high-powered offenses in the state. Sophomore Olivia Moeckel (.544 average, .930 slugging percentage) forms a potent duo with Milner in the Raiders lineup. Senior Sarah Cullen, freshman Ali Gill, and senior Charlotte Raymond aid Walsh in forming an incredibly potent top-of-the-lineup threat for the Warriors. No. 4 Wachusett (20-0) features an unblemished record and No. 5 Peabody (17-1) looks to challenge for the top-spot again after falling short in last year’s final, buoyed by solid contributions from junior Logan Lomasney, junior Avery Grieco, and senior Isabel Bettencourt. Woburn should not be taken lightly with Curry-bound senior Morgan Barmash starring at the dish (.445 average, 39 RBIs) and on the mound (1.46 ERA, 185 strikeouts).
Favorites: No. 1 Westfield (17-1), No. 2 Billerica (18-2), No. 3 Tewksbury (15-5).
Sleepers: No. 8 Silver Lake (18-2), No. 11 Bedford (14-4).
Players to watch: Naomi Boldebuck (Billerica); Kelly Colleran (North Attleborough); Cece Imbimbo (Burlington); Delaney Moquin (Silver Lake); Sam Ryan (Tewksbury).
Best first round matchup: No. 17 Wilmington (12-8) at No. 16 Wakefield (11-9).
Longest road trip: No. 19 Danvers (13-7) at No. 14 Dartmouth (12-8) — 94.2 miles.
Analysis: Westfield, the reigning Division 2 champion, returns junior phenom Shea Hurley. A true ace in the circle, Hurley has posted 10 shutouts this season as the Bombers claimed their consecutive Western Massachusetts title. Merrimack Valley Conference powerhouses Billerica and Tewksbury will look for revenge after navigating difficult schedules. Ryan and fellow senior Sam Perkins form an impressive battery for the Redmen. Billerica senior shortstop Samantha Gaona plays with unbridled intensity, owning a .943 fielding percentage and a .412 average at the plate. Colleran, one of the best players in the state, will make beating No. 5 North Attleborough (15-5) a challenge for any team. No. 6 Walpole (17-1) will be a tough out for any team as sophomore Sharlotte Stazinskiboasts a 1.28 ERA and 151 strikeouts in 93 innings of work. Bedford is stocked with talent, headlined by senior Kaylee Grace in the circle.
Favorites: No. 1 St. Mary’s (19-1), No. 2 Dighton-Rehoboth (16-4).
Sleepers: No. 6 Middleborough (16-4), No. 9 Bishop Fenwick (12-7).
Players to watch: Sandy Fairbairn (Norton); Anna Fringuelli (St. Mary’s); Haleigh Kelley (Dighton-Rehoboth); Cassidy Machado (Middleborough); Emma Penniman (Triton).
Best first round matchup: No. 19 Foxborough (9-11) vs. No. 14 Medway (12-6).
Longest road trip: No. 21 Monty Tech (16-4) at No. 12 Apponequet (10-10) — 93.4 miles.
Analysis: Defending champion and No. 10 seed Greater New Bedford (13-9) will face a host of challengers in arguably the deepest bracket in the state. Led by Fringuelli, St. Mary’s had been tough to beat all season. Along with Kelley, junior center fielder Lucy LaTour (.484 average, 5 home runs, 27 runs, 27 RBIs), freshman Cam Cloonan, and senior Sofia Brown have helped Dighton-Rehoboth to one of the best offenses in the state. No. 7 Triton (16-4), No. 8 North Reading (13-5), led by junior ace Keely Hannon, and No. 11 Pentucket (15-5) can all make some noise. The Panthers are led by a trio of sophomores, ace Molly LeBel, shortstop Kayla Murphy (.481 average, 7 home runs, 39 RBIs), and Jocelyn Bickford (.500 average, 26 RBIs). Gigi Aupont, the junior ace for Bishop Fenwick, is one of the best pitchers in the tournament.
Favorites: No. 1 Joseph Case (19-1), No. 3 Clinton (17-1).
Sleepers: No. 5 Archbishop Williams (17-5), No. 7 Amesbury (16-4), No. 9 Notre Dame (Worcester) (15-5).
Players to watch: Carly DiMento (Tyngsborough); Bree Fontes (Joseph Case); Izzy Levasseur (Amesbury); Jill Ondrick (Archbishop Williams); Olivia Silva (Joseph Case).
Best first round matchup: No. 18 Bay Path (14-6) vs. No. 15 Tri-County (17-1).
Longest trip: No. 27 Monomoy (10-10) at No. 6 Easthampton (15-5) — 172 miles.
Analysis: Fueled by a defeat in last season’s title game, No. 1 Joseph Case put together an extraordinary season, outscoring opponents at every turn with terrific bat-to-ball skills. No. 7 Amesbury, the defending champion, has retooled nicely — senior catcher Ella DeLisle, junior Callie Catarius, and senior Lexi LeBlanc provide solid at-bats. Wins over Division 1 contenders North Andover and Methuen have solidified the Red Hawks case as a team not to mess with. Archbishop Williams boasts a plethora of talent, as senior pitcher Shelby Parr and sophomore Regan Parr earned Catholic Central League All-Star nods.
Favorite: No. 1 Greenfield (15-5).
Sleepers: No. 8 Drury (15-5), No. 12 Millis (9-9).
Players to watch: Taylor Barry (Hopkins Academy); Madi Liimatainen (Turners Falls); MacKenzie Paulin (Greenfield); Frankie Pizzarella (Millis).
Best first round matchup: No. 19 Lenox (12-8) vs. No. 14 Mount Everett (13-7).
Longest road trip: No. 17 Georgetown (11-7) at No. 16 Lee (12-8) — 154 miles.
Analysis: After claiming the Division 5 championship last season, top-seeded Greenfield returns looking to add more hardware to its collection. A healthy amount of Western and Central Massachusetts teams dot the bracket, which features 47 teams. Millis, which played well in a competitive Tri-Valley League, figures to be a major player in the bracket.
Cam Kerry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.