AMHERST, Mass. -- The only thing Annalise Eak knew was she got enough of the sweet spot of her bat on the pitch.
Sprinting down the first base line, head down, it wasn't until Eak had rounded the bag before she realized her teammate Karly Mestello scored the winning run from second base in the bottom of the seventh, lifting Westfield to a 1-0 victory over Longmeadow in Sunday's Western Mass. Division 1 final at UMass' Sortino Field.
With both teams relying heavily on pitching, as expected, the turned into a duel between Lancers fireballer Jill Stockley and Bombers ace Sarah McNerney. As competitive both hurlers are, neither was about to back down to the other which set the tone for the entire game.
Mustering just two hits heading into the decisive frame, Westfield was looking for anyway to score the winner run and keep this contest from going into extra frames. Mestello got things started by looping a lead off single to right that landed in-between three Lancers fielders who converged on the ball. After moving to second on a Rachel Swords sacrifice bunt, the Bombers were given the same opportunity Longmeadow had in the top half of the inning.
While the Lancers failed to capitalize on their chance, the Bombers weren't about to let theirs slip by them. On an 0-2 pitch, Eak drove a Stockley outside fastball into the right-centerfield gap. With Westfield head coach Joe Stella emphatically waving his arm from inside the third base coaches box sending Mestello home, the junior never stopped running and scored without a throw sparking a wild celebration behind home plate.
"I just went up to the plate with the mentality that I have to do this for my teammates," said Eak, a senior. "I got the pitch that I wanted and was zoning in on the one spot where I wanted it and got it. Jill put up one heck of a fight for them but we were fortunate to capitalize on the limited opportunities we had today."
The Bombers (23-0) move on to the state semifinal round where they will meet Central Mass. champ Holy Name (21-2) on Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Worcester State University's Rockwood Field.
For the Lancers (18-5), this marks the second time in as many years they have fallen by a 1-0 count in the sectional championship game. Last year they were defeated by Agawam.
"It's tough no doubt about it," Longmeadow head coach Steve Marcil said. "We know the type of team we played today. Westfield is a great team and have proved it all year. We had some chances but we came up a bit short. Our girls fought to the very end which I'm very proud of.”
Longmeadow had its prime chance in the seventh. Camryn Boutin hit a hard grounder to third that Maddy Atkocaitis made an outstanding diving stop on. But the senior had to rush her throw which sailed just enough up the first base line to allow Boutin to reach. Stockley next laid down a bunt single putting two on with nobody out. With clean-up hitter Ally Mishol now up, some thought Marcil might have her lay another bunt down. Mishol proceeded to smash a hard grounder to Atkocaitis who stepped on third to force Boutin and fired a strike across the diamond to nail Mishol by a step to complete the double play.
McNerney retired Sarah Whitney to end the inning. Atkocaitis, a senior heading to Westfield State University, was solid defensively, making seven put-outs.
"Am I going to take the bat out of my best hitters hands in a situation like that and have her bunt?," said Marcil. "I couldn't. I'm going to let her try and be the hero at that point. It just so happens Ally hit a hard ball to their best and smartest athlete and she made a heads up play where quite honestly how many kids do you think could make a play like that? Give all the credit to Maddy on that play. I'm very proud of my kids and I think we will be back again next year. I felt good about them this year and I feel good about them for next year."
Stockley, only a junior, will lead the Lancers quest for a return trip to UMass next season. Against the Bombers, the UConn commit allowed four hits and struck out six. McNerney was equally impressive, surrendering a pair of singles and fanning four. When these two teams met back in May, McNerney, a senior, came within an out from pitching a no-hitter, before settling on a one-hit 1-0 victory.
McNerney will be the first to tell you that she doesn't possess the same kind of overpowering stuff Stockley has. Instead, she relies heavily on her defense to make the plays behind her.
"Even when they had runners on base I continued to go back to what I know how to do and throw strikes," McNerney said. "We got the outs and here we are now (as Western Mass. champs). My entire defense is amazing and I am so lucky and blessed to have them all behind me. It makes you more-confident knowing you have them behind you. We are one entire team here and everyone contributes. There is not one individual carries the entire team here."
Longmeadow made an initial threat the fourth when, with two out, Stockley reached on an error and took second on a wild pitch. But McNerney left her stranded there. The Bombers' didn't get their first crack until the sixth. Kaitlyn Puza hit a two-out single and swiped second. But Stockley, like McNerney, got the final out to come away unscathed. One frame later however, Westfield would threatened again only this time they didn't walk away disappointed.
"The girls executed at the right time," Stella said. "Stockley pitched great for them and she had us buffaloed for most of the game. It was tough when you have aggressive kids coming to the plate and you've got to tell them to start shortening their swings to somehow get our bats on the ball.
“That final inning was case in point. The girls did what we asked them to do and Annalise gets the big hit for us. Annalise has a lot of power but she also has a long swing. That inning we asked her to cut her swing down and fortunately it worked out.”