WORCESTER — With Austin Prep leading, 1-0, in the fifth inning, Turners Falls faced a big decision with one out and a pair of Cougars on base. The Thunder chose to intentionally walk freshman Brianna Meroli and load the bases for Frankie Frelick.
The junior catcher made the Thunder pay, slashing a two-run double to right, a key moment for Austin Prep as it captured the program’s first Division 3 state softball title with a 3-0 victory Saturday at Worcester State.
“I was actually pretty angry,” said Frelick. “I knew I was going to hit the ball.”
Austin Prep (24-2) and Turners Falls (22-4) met for the third time in four years at this stage, following victories by the Thunder in 2016 and 2017. With a third chance to finish the job, the Cougars were determined.
“This was a team of destiny,” said Austin Prep coach Frank Sorrenti. “It was a mission of ours. I don’t know if anyone realistically expected us to be here, but they just kept getting better and better.”
But early on, it felt like the same cycle was destined to repeat itself. Cougars senior pitcher Serena Gilbride kept the Thunder at bay, but AP wasn’t making much hard contact against Turners Falls sophomore Jade Tyler.
The second time through the lineup, Austin Prep adjusted accordingly and it yielded a run in the third.
“We tried to put the ball in play a little bit more and not get deep into counts,” said Sorrenti. “We didn’t score a lot today but we scored enough.”
Lauren Sablone led off with a perfect, unexpected bunt single. A stolen base and a sacrifice later, she crossed home plate with an arm in the air on a Meroli RBI single.
“She’s got to be one of the tournament MVPs,” said Sorrenti. “She’s been unbelievable all year but she’s made some plays during the tournament.”
Meanwhile, the Cougars defense continued to make big plays.
With two on and one out in the sixth, AP senior shortstop Ella Saracco made a diving play to force a fielder’s choice on a ball up the middle by Thunder sophomore Olivia Whittier, saving a run. Meroli caught a liner from junior Hailey Bogusz on the next pitch, ending the threat.
“They’ve got really good defense,” said Turners Falls sophomore Taylor Murphy. “We had some good hits but just couldn’t hit them to the right spots.”
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com.