After a shocking upset of top-seeded Norton in Thursday’s semifinals, the Greater New Bedford softball team was three outs away from its first Division 2 South title Saturday afternoon.
Middleborough, however, capitalized on a pair of errors to plate two runs, tie the game at 4, and send the game into extra innings.
But Greater New Bedford, the two-time D3 South finalists, answered with a pair of runs on a throwing error in the eighth to capture the program’s inaugural Division 2 South crown with a 6-4 win at Taunton High.
The Bears (20-4) will be back in Taunton this week to face North Reading in a state semifinal.
“It’s amazing to come back here after the last two years [in Division 3],” said Greater New Bedford coach Mark Collins. “To get here in Division 2, where even the regular season had to be treated differently preparing for the playoffs, we treated with more urgency so when we got here we were prepared for it.
“Nobody mentioned us, nobody knew us, nobody cared to know us. They know us now.”
Greater New Bedford loaded the bases in the top of the eighth before sophomore Sarah Carvalho hit a fly to shallow left. The runner at third, Payton Conceicao, darted a few steps for home, then stopped abruptly, attracting a throw to the plate. But the throw sailed out of play behind the backstop, scoring two runs, and a 6-4 lead.
GNB sophomore Jenna Sylvia sailed through five innings, giving up one hit and conceding an unearned run. But she began to lose control in the sixth. And in the seventh, Middleborough (20-4) struck for two runs on a two-out single by Laura Hatch following a walk and back-to-back errors.
“I was getting a little tired,” said Sylvia. “But I fought through it and did what I had to do. I just tried to focus on throwing strikes.”
Collins added, “The seventh inning, the youth showed. The eighth inning, the experience showed, and once you start going, anything can happen.
Division 1 North
Newton North 6, Methuen 3 — A year after winning its first sectional title, Newton North repeated as champions.
Led by senior Emma Arpino (eight strikeouts) and early offense, the Tigers cruised past Methuen at Martin Field in Lowell.
Newton North (19-4) will play South champion Taunton in a state semifinal Tuesday back in Lowell.
“In the beginning of the game we hit the ball really well,” Newton North coach Lauren Baugher said. “We put them on their toes right away which was huge for us.”
Baugher said her team wanted to be aggressive out of the gate and swing early in the count. To emphasize the importance of hitting quality playoff pitching, the Tigers added a wrinkle to tournament practice by taking pitches from former teammate and current Emory University pitcher Madison Schaefer.
The Tigers’ preparation showed as they jumped on Methuen starter Kelsie McGonagle immediately. Junior Emma MacLean (three runs) roped a double in the first at-bat to spark the offense. When the dust settled, Newton North had tallied nine hits, five runs, and forced McGonagle out of the game after just four outs.
Division 2 North
North Reading 3, Burlington 1 — When a team has enjoyed an undefeated season, the players often find a routine. For undefeated North Reading, it is a saying repeated before the seventh inning of each game.
“Big dogs gotta eat!” the whole team screams.
On Saturday at Martin Field in Lowell, the inside joke created by senior Tara Driver worked its seventh-inning magic once more as the Hornets set the side down in order to cap a win over Burlington for sectional championship. North Reading (23-0) will play Greater New Bedford in the state semifinal Tuesday.
“It’s amazing, honestly,” senior Christina Simblaris said of her team’s run. “It’s a great way to spend our senior year. I’m so proud of everyone I can’t even explain it.”
North Reading scored the runs it needed early. Julia Howse and Guiliana Peppe started the second inning with consecutive base hits. After a fly out, Simblaris roped a single to score Howse and eventually Peppe after an overthrow at the plate. Simblaris would score on a sacrifice fly.
Hornets junior Cassandra Pascucci escaped each jam she faced.
In the fourth inning, Pascucci walked back-to-back batters to load the bases for Burlington (18-5). The Hornets met at the mound. The message was simple, Simblaris said, keep doing what they always do.
Pascucci threw an outside pitch that forced a ground out to end the inning, avoiding the biggest scare of the day.
And the Hornets will have a chance to “eat” for the 24th consecutive time.
Division 3 North
Austin Prep 3, Amesbury 0 — Logan MacDonald allowed a one-out triple in the top of the first inning, but the Austin Prep senior responded by striking out the next two hitters and did not allow another baserunner. MacDonald struck out 15 as the Cougars won their third straight Division 3 North crown at Martin Field in Lowell.
Austin Prep (24-0) will play Abington in a state semifinal Tuesday in Lowell.
“To me that was the big momentum swing,” Austin Prep coach Frank Sorrenti said. “We feel that our pitching and our defense can match up with anybody, so we’re OK with a game like this. We haven’t had a lot of close ones, but the ones we’ve had we’ve come out on top so they know how to play in this kind of situation.”
In the bottom of the first, MacDonald singled and scored on a double by Francesca Frelick. Caroline Sablone tripled in Frelick for a 2-0 lead.
From there, Amesbury pitcher Hayley Catania limited Austin Prep to one hit until the sixth, when Frelick tripled and scored on an RBI by Sablone.
“We knew coming in that she was a good pitcher,” Sorrenti said. “In this scenario, against a good team in a championship game, you knew it was going to be tough. I keep telling the girls, ‘It’s only going to get harder.’ ”Dan Shulman reported from Middleborough, Josh Schafer reported from Lowell, and Brandon Blom reported from Lowell