Deb Parker took a moment to size up the current state of girls’ softball in the Hockomock League. But the second-year Stoughton coach was not sure where to start.
“I feel like everywhere is a little bit different,” she said with a laugh.
“The deck has been reshuffled.”
Milford, a program which has claimed every Davenport title since 2013, graduated 10 seniors and is winless in the Hock, and 1-10 overall. On the other side, defending Kelley-Rex champion King Philip — which has won a league-high 16 Hock titles — is 4-5 (4-4 in league play).
The shift in power has made it possible for teams to make a move.
Stoughton, which failed to qualify for the 2018 state tourney with a 7-12 record (6-9 Hockomock), sits toward the top of the Kelley-Rex standings at 9-4 overall and 7-4 in league play.
Only North Attleborough (8-1, 6-1 Hockomock), which is building on a successful 2018 (13-5, 11-4), has been better. The Red Rocketeers defeated King Philip for the first time since 2003 in a decisive 7-1 victory last month.
In Davenport play, Franklin (9-11, 9-8 Hockomock in 2018) is undefeated through nine league games and 9-1 overall. The Panthers held on for a tight 2-1 decision last month against Taunton, the defending Division 1 champion, to preserve their perfect Hock record.
And Sharon (2-12) earned its first win since 2017 in a league victory over Milford.
“This league is so competitive,” said Franklin coach Kate Fallon-Comeau. “Any team can beat any team on any given day.”
Franklin (13 Hockomock titles) and Stoughton (10) are second and third in league titles, with Franklin picking up its most recent in 2006 and sharing the 2005 Davenport title with Stoughton. Both teams dominated the league from 1991 to 2002, with one of the other winning in 10 of 11 seasons.
The shift in the standings is not surprising, and the success of Stoughton, Franklin, and other teams is a testament to players and coaches who have long been toiling away toward success.
Seeking their third state tourney appearance in four seasons, the Black Knights have an emerging star in sophomore Nicole Baker.
Her rise has not been subtle. The sophomore leads the league in strikeouts (101) and innings pitched (80), having walked just 33 and compiling a 1.20 earned run average.
Karly Estremera (.543, 8 RBIs) and Lexi Baptista (.525, 9 RBIs) lead Stoughton on offense.
“We made [the tournament] my freshman and sophomore years, and missing it last year was really upsetting,” said Stoughton senior captain Jordan Lyons. “We don’t want to just get there, we want to do well, win multiple games and see how far we can go.”
The past two seasons, Franklin has fallen just shy of tournament qualification. But with a lineup featuring eight seniors – including three collegiate recruits – the Panthers are ready to make a run.
Catcher Ally Shea, who will play at Saint Anselm next year, is fourth in the league in batting (.548, with 6 RBIs). Her batterymate, senior Jackie Cherry (St. Michael’s College) is 7-1, amassing a 1.16 ERA in 42⅓ innings.
“Everything’s paying off at this point,” Shea said. “We go into the game hoping for the best, hoping that our hard work will pay off. It’s been working out for us this season.”
But just because some teams are down doesn’t mean they should be counted out, cautioned both players and coaches.
“In the Hockomock League as a whole, it’s always a competitive league,” said Stoughton senior captain Brianna Ferrandiz. “Us as a team, we’ve been fighting our chances for the past four years that I’ve been here. We need to keep pushing and we’ll come out and do well.”
One strategy both teams agree on is slowing down the game, concerning themselves not quite yet with state championship trophies but with the game in front of them.
“I don’t think that we take things lightly,” said Franklin junior Maddy White. “We like to play for each inning. We work really hard, for any team at all.”
Added Lyons, “Anyone can win any game. It doesn’t matter what the team is. We have to go in knowing we have to do what we do best — hit, do well in the field, and do what we can to support [Baker in the circle].”
■ In Hanover’s 13-1 win over Scituate, senior Maeg Amsler recorded her 125th career hit and 100th RBI of her career. The four-year starter has added to her numbers since, upping her career hit total to 134 and striking out only 11 times.
“She hits the ball harder than any girl I’ve ever coached,” said Hanover coach Joe Messina. “She’s been doing this consistently since her sophomore year.”
Amsler is batting .781 through nine games with 25 RBIs. She is committed to Emmanuel College to play softball next year. In addition to the impressive statistics, Amsler was described by her coach as a leader and the best teammate.
“Our whole lineup is based around her,” said Messina. “She’s infectious, get’s everybody going, she’s got a bubbling personality but she’s all business when she’s at the plate.”
■ Former Lexington pitcher Maggie Oram threw a perfect game in Endicott’s 10-0 win over the University of New England in the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship game. The CCC leader in wins (15), strikeouts (92) and saves (3), the junior righthander has made 21 appearances for the 32-5 Gulls.
It was the first perfect game for Endicott in six years. In 2016, Oram led the Minutemen to the Division 1 state semifinals as a senior.
Wednesday, Plymouth North at No. 8 Plymouth South (6 p.m.) — A crosstown Patriot League matchup pits the Panthers against an Eagles squad quickly becoming the talk of the town.
Thursday, No. 5 Bishop Feehan at No. 3 Taunton (7 p.m.) — Arguably the best game of the season thus far, the Shamrocks look to take down the Tigers in a rematch of last year’s D1 South semi.
Thursday, Amesbury at No. 19 Triton (3:45 p.m.) — The two division leaders in the Cape Ann League square off.
Saturday, No. 17 North Attleboro at No. 14 Franklin (1 p.m.) — In a Hockomock League crossover, the visiting Red Rocketeers look to topple the high-flying Panthers.
Monday, No. 1 Newton North at No. 9 Braintree (3:45 p.m.) — The toughest test yet for the top-ranked Tigers as they hit the road to face league rival Braintree.
Monday, No. 6 Acton-Boxborough at No. 13 Concord-Carlisle (4 p.m.) — A Dual County League tilt between two top-20 squads pits the surging Colonials against a potent Patriot lineup.
Jenna Ciccotelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Dan Shulman also contributed.