Methuen, Gloucester, and Austin Prep advance to state softball finals
Trailing, 1-0, in the top of the third inning with two outs, Methuen was sputtering at the plate, mustering just one hit.
But a second trip through the order proved just enough to get the Rangers’ bats going. Methuen (21-4) rattled off five straight two-out hits, scoring as many runs on the way to a 6-2 win over Bridgewater-Raynham (23-2) in a Division 1 state semifinal at Taunton High Wednesday night.
The Rangers will take on Central champion Wachusett in the state championship on Saturday in Worcester.
“We were able to get some timely hits tonight,” said Methuen coach Jason Smith. “We knew if we were able to stay off the rise and make [B-R pitcher Julia Ferry] bring it down in the zone we would get something to hit.”
As leadoff hitter Stephanie Tardugno strode to bat with two outs in the third, her approach was different than her first at-bat. Her single sparked a rally.
Junior Claudia Crowe added her second hit, and senior Nyah Mazzone and junior Dana Littlefield followed with RBI singles.
Senior Cori Rizzo added the exclamation point with a two-run homer to left field.
Junior pitcher Jillian McCoy did her part to limit a tricky Trojans’ lineup. She finished the night with eight strikeouts, scattering seven hits.
“I can’t say enough about Cori Rizzo, probably one of my hardest working kids,” Smith said. “To see her get a hit like that was phenomenal.”
“I knew they could not score because I know they can retaliate,” said McCoy. “Just tried to keep it away from them and keep it in the infield.”
B-R led after an inning when Summer Sheerin slashed a double to drive in Jill Johnson. But the Trojans were not so clinical for the remainder of the night, stranding six runners in scoring position.
“She has gotten tougher as the year has gone on,” said Smith about Jillian McCoy. “She has seemed to thrive off tournament ball. She bore down when it got tough.”
Gloucester 3, Norton 2 — After nosing out Norton in the program’s first state semifinal appearance at Martin Field in Lowell, one Gloucester player asked if the Fishermen would receive another trophy. “Not until Saturday,” responded a teammate.
After falling behind, 2-0, the Fishermen (21-3) came alive in the middle frames to collect six hits in four innings, highlighted by Jenna Hoofnagle’s winning moment in the bottom of the fifth.
With two outs, the freshman Hoofnagle sent the ball deep into center and slid into third, scoring the go-ahead run on an errant throw. In front of Hoofnagle (1 for 2, walk) on the basepaths, with the tying run, was Rachael Rallo, pinch-running for Elizabeth Schuster (2 for 3).
“I just drove it,” Hoofnagle said. “I was like, ‘This is the moment.’ I popped up and I was like, ‘I’m going, no matter what. I’m getting in there and we’re winning.’ ”
Gloucester got on the board in the bottom of the third when Tracy Wood (1 for 2, walk) sent one down the left field line to score Ella Marshall.
South champion Norton (19-5) got out to an early lead when leadoff hitter Destiny McGrath walked in her first at-bat, then scored when Madison Correia grounded into a fielder’s choice. Erica Ransom crossed to give the Lancers their only other score in the next frame.
“[We] have a desire not to lose,” said Gloucester coach John Nicastro. “That’s just who they are. You see it through the tough close games.”
Gloucester will face Central champion Hudson (21-3) in Saturday’s Division 2 state championship at Worcester State.
Austin Prep 10, Case 7 — Austin Prep trailed 2-0 in the first inning, but the Cougars’ confidence never wavered, particularly Lauren Sablone.
The junior center fielder went 3 for 4, all extra-base hits, starting run-scoring rallies in the first two innings before driving in a pair of valuable insurance runs in the fifth as Austin Prep (23-2) knocked off South champion Case in Taunton.
Austin Prep will take on West champion Turners Falls for the third time in four years in Saturday’s state final at Worcester State.
“We find ways to win,” said Austin Prep coach Frank Sorrenti. “They felt after the first inning they could hit [Case pitcher Riley Burgess] and they teed off.”
In the bottom of the first, Austin Prep scored four times to take the lead. Sablone led off with a double, scoring on the first of three RBIs from freshman Brianna Meroli. Fellow freshman Melina Fedele cranked a three-run shot, putting the Cougars in front.
In the second, Sablone struck again with a double to spur a two-out, two-run rally. Her two-out triple to right field in the fifth was her biggest hit, driving in a pair of runs to stretch the lead to 9-5.
“That at-bat, my job here isn’t to hit a home run, it’s to score runs,” said Sablone. “They were shifting me to left the entire game and I see that outside pitch, I’m going to take it that way.”
For Case, it was a night of missed opportunities, stranding 15 base runners including leaving the bases loaded in the first.
Most of that was caused by sharp defense from Austin Prep and strong pitching senior Serena Gilbride.
In a 150-pitch effort, Gilbride struggled early, but settled in late. A liner off the leg in the seventh caused discomfort but she battled through to get the win.
Sablone had the highlight of the night, making a diving catch in the left-center gap to end the fourth and keep the Cougars ahead.
“We played great defense and found a way to wiggle out,” said Sorrenti. “I got a lot of faith in my team. We adjusted [defensively] as the game goes along.”
Turners Falls defeated Austin Prep in the championship games in 2016 and 2017.
“We’re hoping the third time is a charm,” said Sorrenti. “This is a totally different team.”
Ciccotelli reported from Lowell and Shulman from Taunton.