Under the lights, a classic duel -- and preview

PLAINVILLE, Mass. -– Two pitchers, two distinct styles, two stat sheets inspiring loads of praise.

And let’s be honest, a two-to-one odds of these two meeting again in the Division 1 state finals isn’t totally out of the realm.

No, the hundreds gathered tonight under the lights at the Plainville Athletic League might have witnessed a preview of the Division 1 state final set for a month from now, as two of the state's premier pitchers -- King Philip junior Meghan Rico, and Milford sophomore Shannon Smith -- combined for for 27 strikeouts in an extra innings 1-0 walk-off win for KP.

Interestingly enough, it was against these same Scarlet Hawks in last year's D1 state final where Rico first began turning heads, coming on in place of current UMass freshman Maggie Quealy and leading the Warriors to a 10-1 win and the championship. From there Rico, who recently committed to George Washington, only exploded; her 16 strikeouts tonight give her 199 on the season in 95 innings, with a 14-0 record and an ERA of 0.07.

Meanwhile, her counterpart Smith has become one of the more intimidating power pitchers in the circle, with equally boastful stats: her 11 K's tonight put her at 201 for the season in 110 innings, with a 0.69 ERA and 15-1 record.

Pitted against one another tonight, it made for great theater. Every set of bleachers was packed, and spectators lined the fence all around the circumference of the field, hollering with each strikeout and sharp defensive turn. In the end, it was also a cheerful reunion for Rico, who played in Milford's summer league for two seasons and embraced several Scarlet Hawks in a postgame hug.

Viewed separately, they represent two distinct styles. Rico, while not in the classic build of a power pitcher, can pound for strikes with a deceptively hard fastball. But it's her curveball and screwball, combined with a wide windmill motion, that make it difficult for hitters to pick up on even as the order cycles through a second and third time.

"Her whole motion is just unique," Milford head coach Brian Macchi said. "Picking up the ball, I think, is just a difficult thing. She has a lot of movement before she releases the ball, that's different than what the girls are used to seeing. For just a windmill pitcher, she has a lot of things that definitely make it difficult to pick up the timing of the ball.

"You don't have enough time to begin with. And then to have that movement added in before the pitch is being thrown to you, it definitely adds an element of difficulty to get the job done offensively."

Smith, on the other hand, makes her presence heard -- literally, with the outside edge of her glove slapping her leg for a large popping sound as she finishes her delivery. Those who watched her older sister Andrea cautiously paint the corners in past years might watch Shannon and come away thinking polar opposites. But like her sister, now a freshman at C.W. Post, Shannon's got a few tricks up her sleeve as well.

"She's got a tremendous screwball," KP head coach Jim Leonard said. "Her ball moves, and he velocity is just outstanding. Just a great pitcher."

It certainly won't be the last time these two square off. But the next round might come sooner than you think.