TAUNTON, Mass. - When King Philip lost four out of five games in one stretch during the middle of the season, including losses to Hockomock rivals North Attleborough and Taunton, it seemed as though the Warriors’ run of league championships would come to an end this spring.
But with wins over the Rocketeers on Sunday and a 4-3 win over Taunton on Monday night at Jack Tripp Field, King Philip (14-4, 14-2) closed out its Hockomock League schedule with nine straight victories and earned at least a share of another Kelley-Rex division title.
“It was gut check for them, but they’ve got tradition and they know all about it,” said KP coach Norm Beauchemin, who has won titles in each of his two seasons at the helm. “It was up to them to break the tradition or to carry it on and they stepped up. I’m very proud of them.”
“It’s always great living up to that legacy,” said junior Renee Poirier, who go the final five outs on Monday night. “We have such high expectations to live up to but that’s what we strive for to be more successful than those that came before us. We just left it all out there -- we had nothing to lose.”
The Warriors jumped out early on Taunton (17-2, 13-2) starter Jesse Aleixo and were aided by several uncharacteristic defensive mistakes by the Tigers to build a 4-0 lead after three innings.
“An early lead is always awesome,” said Poirier. “Once you get one [run], it seems like the rest are easier to follow and then it gives more confidence out in the field because you have a little cushion. “
With one out in the first, third baseman Shannon Jones and starting pitcher Kali Magane had back-to-back singles. Aleixo struck out Poirier for the second out but shortstop Ashley Hession stepped up with a base hit to right that slipped under the glove of Kelly Reading to bring home both base runners. Hession would advance to third on the error and would score on a single by Brianna Sebio.
In the third, Poirier led off with a double and would come home to score when Hession’s ground ball found its way past shortstop Jordan Wade. Taunton head coach Dave Lewry credited Poirier for great base running to distract Wade on the play, but admitted that those early mistakes turned out to be the difference.
He said, “We’ve been a good defensive team all year -- it’s been one of our strengths -- and we made a couple of mistakes early on and that amounted to four runs and that’s the ballgame.
After a perfect first three innings, Magane ran into some trouble in the bottom of the fourth. A lead-off single by Kailey March gave Taunton its first hit and base runner of the game and Reading followed with a walk. McKenzie Navarro laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move March to third and Wade hit a sac fly to right to get the Tigers on the board.
In the fifth, a two-out triple to right center by eighth grade catcher Kya Enos led to a run for the Tigers when March beat out a grounder to short. Taunton would claw another one back in the sixth when Wade singled with one out to knock Magane out of the game and Poirier hit Aimee Kistner with a pitch. Two wild pitches later and Wade scored to make it 4-3.
Poirier would escape the jam and preserve the lead by striking out Kim McCone.
“I came in trying to be calm and thinking one pitch at a time,” Poirier said. “I had complete confidence in the defense behind me. There’s always nerves in that situation but that’s what helps you thrive.”
After the game, Beauchemin explained his reasons for making the switch in the sixth, saying, “[Magane] threw a lot of pitches [Sunday] night and it looked like she was running out of gas. It was the third time through the order and they were starting to catch up to her … and we have Renee, who threw well at the beginning of the year, so why not utilize what you have?”
As Taunton was starting to make noise offensively against Magane, Aleixo was settling into a groove. The senior didn’t allow a base runner after the fourth inning and retired the final 11 hitters that she faced.
Lewry said, “None of her pitches were really working and every time we threw a breaking pitch they tattooed it, so the last four innings we went strictly fastballs and located and that seemed to do the trick. She kept us in the game and gave us a chance to win tonight.”
Poirier pitched a perfect seventh to wrap up the victory for KP, which has the chance to avenge its other two losses with games against Coyle-Cassidy and Bishop Feehan remaining in the regular season.
Taunton will face a trip to Mansfield on Tuesday knowing that a win will earn the Tigers a share of the Hockomock title, which would be the program’s first and just the school’s second team title since entering the league.
Lewry remarked, “Not exactly what we were shooting for but at this point it’s our best shot so we have to do what it takes to get it done.”