On the afternoon of April 29, Milford High softball coach Brian Macchi gathered his players at their lowest point of the season and urged them not to forget the feeling.
The Scarlet Hawks had just lost to North Attleborough, 1-0, in 10 innings, the program’s first loss in 35 games, but he insisted they turn their mourning over a perfect season lost into something more positive.
“Failure is the biggest and best teacher,” Macchi said. “When you fail at something you want to realize why it happened, and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. These girls bought into that. That was the fuel for them as the season progressed.”
Milford (26-1) rolled off wins in its next 16 games, including a 1-0 victory in the Division 1 state championship game against Agawam High last Saturday at Worcester State University.
After finishing a perfect 25-0 season last spring, the Hawks walked away with the state championship plaque once again.
After the win, police and fire vehicles escorted the team bus from the edge of town on Route 140 back to Milford High School, the site of their first and only loss of the season, where Macchi, his players and their fans celebrated the repeat championship.
“That night, I said ‘mission accomplished’ because that’s what they all wanted to do,” Macchi said. “They all wanted to say they were state champions when it was all said and done. “
Here’s a closer look into Milford’s run toward its second straight state title:
■ Key play: In the sixth inning against Agawam, freshman shortstop Jill Powers knocked an RBI double into the gap in left-center field for the game’s only run. She worked all season on being able to stay back on off-speed pitches, and after a midgame conversation with Macchi, she was able to pull through at the perfect time.
“It was one of those times where as a coach, you have to keep on preaching,” Macchi said. “Sometimes it’s repeating yourself over and over again, and saying the same things, and at the right time it’s going to click. Fortunately for us it clicked at the right time for Jill.”
■ Stats check: Kentucky-bound ace Shannon Smith wasn’t satisfied after setting the state’s record for strikeouts in a high school career, which she set earlier in the regular season. Instead, she pushed herself to reach 1,200 punchouts, which she hit in the state semifinal win over Central Catholic. She added 13 more in the state final game and finished her career with a mind-boggling 1,219 Ks.
■ Unsung hero: Sophomore catcher Taylor LeBrun had the difficult task of catching Smith’s mid-60s-mile-per-hour pitches, all of them rising, curving, and diving in different directions.
“Someone’s gotta catch those balls from Shannon,” Macchi said. “And someone has to do it on a consistent basis because it’s not an easy job. She did it so well this year.”
■ Future outlook: The Hawks are losing five senior starters, but have 11 players returning for next season, including two pitchers — junior Kayla Barys and freshman Jenny Levine — who will take over in the circle for Smith.
“It’ll be fun to come in on the first day of tryouts,” Macchi said, “and see who’s put the work in, who’s ready to go for 2014.”
Assabet’s historic year
The Assabet Valley Regional Tech softball team finished a historic season last weekend with its 5-2 win over St. Mary’s of Lynn for the Division 3 state title — the Marlborough school’s first in any team sport.
■ Defining moment: The Aztecs (21-4) weren’t dominant in the regular season — they finished third in the Colonial Athletic League, falling twice to Blackstone Valley Regional. It was their second loss to the Beavers that spurred senior captains Britney Lutz , Morgan Parmeter , Brenna Boucher, and junior captain Jen Casavant to focus on what had to be fixed before the postseason.
“After that, we had a white board where we wrote down everything we wanted to accomplish in each day’s practice,” said coach Mike O’Brien . “We didn’t leave until we accomplished everything we wanted. Some practices were an hour and 20 minutes, some were three hours.”
■ Key play: Freshman left fielder Josie Burlingame made a diving, snow-cone catch on a sinking pop up to end the fifth inning and help preserve Assabet’s 5-1 lead over St. Mary’s.
■ Unsung hero: The Parmeter sisters, senior third baseman Morgan and sophomore pitcher Madison, deserved significant praise as they helped lead the Aztecs to their Division 3 state championship plaque. But in five tournament games, the Aztecs allowed just six runs thanks in part to the solid play of sophomore shortstop Jocelyn Orangio .
“She made all the plays,” said O’Brien. “You know, we’re very tough on her. And there was lot of pressure on her, but she performed at a very high level. . . . She was someone who was willing to take one off the face rather than get out of the way.”
■ Stats check: Morgan Parmeter came up big at the plate for the Aztecs, going 8 for 14 in the playoffs, including four RBIs.
■ Future outlook: The Aztecs will return a significant portion of their title-winning group, with the 12 players including starters Madison Parmeter, Casavant, Orangio, Burlingame, and center fielder Kayla Baker .
“We have our core coming back,” O’Brien said. “Teams will still think we’re the team to beat, and until we prove anything less, I think we are.”
Wait until next year
The Nashoba Regional baseball team started the season with 13 new players, and only two returning starters. In April, coach Chuck Schoolcraft wasn’t sure what to think. “I thought this could be either a really, really good year,” he said, “or it could be a tough year.”
Fortunately for the Chieftains, it was the former. They ended the season 21-4, won the Midland Wachusett League’s B Division title, and captured the school’s first Division 1 Central title.
In their first state final, Nashoba lost to Bridgewater-Raynham, 4-0.
Though the team is losing five seniors, including pitchers Jack Sarnoski and Drew Foster , five starters will be back. Juniors John Militano (.360 batting average), Nick Campana (.338), Matt Sabourin , Dan Cacciatore , and Kevin Connolly will anchor a group that Schoolcraft believes can carry its playoff success into next season.
Marlborough softball coach Kyle Wescott feels the same about his team. The Panthers lose five-year varsity pitcher Molly McGuire to graduation as well as five more seniors off this year’s Division 1 Central champ, but seven will be back when tryouts start in March.
Freshman shortstop Victoria Falco , sophomores third baseman Victoria Petrie and left fielder Jenni Jackson, and three juniors —first baseman Erin Coughlin , outfielder Jen Boxell , and second baseman Renee LaPorte — will be looking for another Central title after the Panthers’ first this year.
“I think that those returning have tasted that success,” Wescott said. “They know how to get there, the hard work it took to get there. . . . Plus we have a really great group of sophomores and freshmen and even eighth-graders that’ll be up at the high school very soon. We’re not going away any time soon.”
Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.