WORCESTER, Mass. -- When Meghan Rico is in the circle, she remains in control. It’s not so much as King Philip head coach Jim Leonard says that perfection is “almost expected,” but nothing seems to faze her.
During Saturday’s Division 1 state championship softball game at Worcester State’s Rockwood Field, Rico found herself in a serious pickle in the sixth inning against Western Mass. champion Amherst. There were runners on first and third with one out.
Rico reared back a little bit harder and came back with two of her 19 strikeouts to end the inning and preserve the scoreless tie. In an uncharacteristic moment, the George Washington commit gave a fist pump while sprinting off the field.
It was a big out.
And, as it would turn out, it was the difference after the Warriors took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth on Meg Carnase’s double.
Rico returned to strike out the side in the seventh to provide KP with its second straight state title and finish the season undefeated at 26-0.
“We needed that right there,” Rico said of getting out of the sixth-inning jam. “If they score right there, it was going to be really hard to come back to score against them. I knew we had to score first, we had to be the ones to score and we did that.”
Runs came at a premium as the state’s top pitchers squared off in the circle with Rico opposing the Hurricanes’ Emma Mendoker.
Mendoker, the East Carolina commit, kept the Warriors hitless through 5 2/3 innings, only to take the hard-luck loss in the end. The Gatorade Massachusetts Softball Player of the Year finished with 10 strikeouts while surrendering only two hits.
“I think the main thing for Emma is that she has such an arsenal of both movement and speed that if keeps them off balance,” Hurricanes head coach Kacey Schmitt said.
Rico snapped Mendoker’s no-hit bid with a single to right-center to start the two-out rally. Courtesy runner Hailey Mullen came around to score the game’s only run on Carnase’s bases-loaded double after Amherst centerfielder Athena Donta slipped while trying to make a play on the fly ball.
It looked as though Carnase’s hit had cleared the bases, but the inning ended as an appeal made to the umpires was upheld finding that Jenn Robillard hadn’t touched third base while scoring what would’ve been KP’s third run. Instead, it was the third out.
“There were two strikes against me, so I was just trying to protect the plate,” Carnase said. “It was close, so I just swung at it and fell in.”
Amherst (23-2) jumped on Rico immediately with lead-off hitter Quianna Diaz-Patterson (2-for-3, 3 SBs) and third baseman Simone Frank banging out hits to start the game. The Hurricanes stranded both runners on base as Rico reeled off three strikeouts.
It was the beginning of a chain of 10 straight strikeouts by Rico, which helped her equal her single-game career high of 19.
“When there’s runners on base, it’s almost like she takes it personally,” Leonard said of Rico. “It was huge for us to strand those base runners in the first and again in the sixth innings, to keep those runners standing at third.”
Diaz-Patterson, the UMass commit, was again the fulcrum to the Hurricanes’ sixth-inning rally. Frank reached on a fielder’s choice via the bunt, but again the Amherst runners advanced no further.
Rico got Zoe Dillon-Davidson swinging and Mendoker looking to end the inning.
“We knew how their hitters hit,” Warriors catcher Olivia Godin said. “We went to the Amherst-Milford [state semifinal] game, so we knew that some batter we couldn’t pitch inside and we just had to go all away, off the plate. Mendoker’s great, so we had to go off plate to her.”
All they needed was just one run.
“It was a lot of pressure to get that perfect season,” Rico said. “We wanted it so bad that I had no doubt in my mind that we weren’t going to have a perfect season, but just to finish it like this is amazing.”