Boston High School: Amanda Vallante

D2 EMass softball: Abington 5, Dracut 4

June, 13, 2012

TAUNTON, Mass. -– Whenever a game-changing situation occurred during Tuesday’s Eastern Mass softball final, Abington right fielder Jill Marella was involved. A two-run single, a sac-fly, a fielder’s choice to score the game-winning run, a miracle catch in the field, she pretty much did it all.

Marella’s performance was a microchasm of the Green Wave’s unprecedented postseason run. After taking a 5-4 win over North sectional champion Dracut at Taunton High’s Jack Tripp Field, Abington will stare down history again with its first-ever trip to a softball championship game on Saturday.

“This is the way you want to go out senior year,” Marella said.

The Green Wave’s mettle was tested in several critical points of Tuesday’s game, and while it wasn’t always pretty, Abington (23-2) has continued to find ways to win ball games.

Dracut (23-2) erased two Green Wave leads in the early going, tying the game 1-1 through the first and 3-3 through three. Abington claimed its third lead of the game in the fourth on Marella’s sacrifice fly, scoring Victoria Chiocchio (2-for-2, two runs scored). The Middies again countered; Kaylee Kacavas’ sac-fly plated Samantha Durand in the fifth.

Although Abington regained the lead in the sixth, with Alicia Reid scoring on Marella’s bases-loaded fielder’s choice, there would be no clear sailing for the Green Wave.

Dracut had a runner in scoring position in both the home half of the sixth and seventh against Abington ace Kelly Norton. Those runners wouldn’t advance past second as the Green Wave defense held to retire the side in both innings without any further damage.

Beside her work at the plate, Marella was instrumental to stopping a potential Middies rally in the fourth.

With the bases loaded and two out, Dracut lead-off hitter Amanda Vallante pulled a Norton offering to deep right. Although Marella initially broke in on the ball, she recovered in time to get back and snag the liner for the final out of the frame.

“I wasn’t used to the lights and I lost it for a little bit,” Marella said of her fully extended shoestring catch. “And I just kind of made a leap of faith, I grabbed it. I got lucky.”

It’s just another way Marella has delivered this postseason.

“She’s come up big every time we’ve asked her to,” Abington head coach Ernie Ortega said. “She gets the bunt down, or she gets a big hit. They play her to bunt all the time, but they don’t realize she does both, and she came up with the big hit.”

Norton, who is frequently dominant, found herself scrapping for three strikeouts against the Middies lineup. But she was at her best with her back against the wall in the final frames.

Abington assistant coach Marty French made several key trips to the circle to calm Norton’s nerves in those tense situations.

The experienced coach and pitching expert always seems to know exactly what to say. And how to make light of the situation.

“They’re light-hearted conversations, he likes to keep things upbeat,” Norton said. “In my head, I was freaking out, I was so nervous, but he just told me to relax.”

Norton induced a ground-ball out to end the sixth-inning rally and a couple of fly balls to end threats in the fifth and sixth.

Whatever French had to offer must’ve been pretty funny.

Abington’s chance at ultimate history comes Saturday at Worcester State College (4 p.m.) when the Green Wave will face Central sectional champion Grafton, which claimed a 3-2 win over Hampshire in the other state semifinal game on Tuesday.

Ortega feels his team will enter battle-tested.

“We’ve face some really, really tough teams coming out of the South. It’s just amazing the talent that has come out of there and to be able to be where we are now, I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”

“Coming this far, we have to win,” Norton added. “We have to win.”

D2 North softball: Dracut 6, Winchester 0

June, 11, 2012

LOWELL, Mass. -- Pitch selection and discipline at the plate were the key to Dracut’s 6-0 win over Winchester in Monday’s Division 2 North final.

Sachems starter Rachael Smith kept the Middies off-balance with a steady diet of drop balls and off the scoreboard through four innings. Something kicked in for Dracut in the fifth, however, as the Middies scraped their first two runs across.

Followed by a four-run outpouring in the sixth, Dracut was well on its way to punching a ticket to Tuesday’s state semifinal.

“At the beginning, we were swinging at stuff that wasn’t that good,” Middies senior center fielder Amanda Vallante said, “but once we went through a couple of time, we started catching on.”

Vallante was the catalyst to the Middies’ late-innings charge with three RBI. She drove in the game’s first run on a sacrifice fly in the fifth before busting it wide open in the sixth, smacking a two-run single to center to round out scoring.

Cassie and Samantha Durand and Shannon Ramirez also drove in runs for Dracut (23-1).

In the field, Middies ace Lauren Ramirez showed her usual form, striking out 11 in the complete-game shutout.

“Lauren is Lauren, she’s overpowering and the defense has been backing her all year,” Middies head coach George Roy said.

GeThe fifth inning was the fulcrum on which the game swung. Before Dracut went on the offensive in the home half, the Sachems (16-6) threatened to score.

Winchester had runners on second and third, thanks to an infield error, with two outs.

Lauren Ramirez got out of the jam with a ground ball out and then went on to retire the side in order in both the sixth and seventh.

“Once you get the first out, it gets a lot easier to get the second and the third,” Ramirez said. “We started off bad with the errors, but as it goes along and you start shutting them down, and they’re not progressing on the bases and not scoring, it’s a lot easier to get through that inning.”

D2 North softball: Dracut 6, Danvers 1

June, 11, 2012
LOWELL, Mass. -- The Dracut High softball team starts four sophomores and two freshmen, but you wouldn’t think it when you watch them play.

The Middies have taken on all comers with poise, even as the stakes have gotten higher. The trend continued Sunday afternoon with a 6-1 win over another young team, Danvers, in the MIAA Division 2 North semifinals at Martin Field.

Sophomore second baseman Kaleigh Bishop-Kotarba had the big hit in the bottom of the fifth for Dracut (22-1), a two-out, bases loaded single that wound up clearing the bases after an error in the outfield. That hit made it a 6-1 game.

Bishop-Kotarba finished the game 2-for-3 with three RBI.

“Kaleigh’s been doing that all season,” said Middies head coach George Roy. “She had 26 RBI coming into the playoffs. She’s done it for us all year. Every time we need that big hit, she’s there. She’s having a great year.”

Junior pitcher Lauren Ramirez finished the game in style after that. Falcon freshman third baseman Caitlin McBride led off the top of the sixth with a walk, but Ramirez struck out the next five batters she faced. After a base hit from Danvers sophomore pitcher Kendall Meehan, Ramirez induced a ground ball off the bat of junior second baseman Chrissy Gikas to end the game.

Ramirez and Bishop-Kotarba both had RBI singles in the bottom of the first to stake the Middies to a 2-0 lead, and even then, Roy said he felt comfortable with Ramirez on the mound.

“Once we get those one or two, I feel very confident we’re gonna win the game,” Roy said. “Tonight, they (the defense) were a little shaky in the beginning because they were nervous, but for the most part they play real good ‘D’ behind her.”

Danvers (19-4) scored an unearned run in the top of the second. McBride started the inning with a walk and got to second when sophomore first baseman Devyn Downs reached on an infield error. A one-out infield single by junior center fielder Julia Saggese loaded the bases, and after a strikeout, freshman shortstop Brittany Dougal singled to score McBride.

Meehan settled in after allowing two runs in the first, retiring nine of the 10 batters she faced in innings 2-4. Ramirez matched her zero for zero, with a bunt single by Saggese the only blemish against the Dracut hurler in the middle innings.

Freshman right fielder Madison Ryan led off Dracut’s four-run fifth with a single to right on an 0-2 pitch. An error on senior center fielder Amanda Vallante’s sacrifice bunt attempt put runners on the corners, and freshman left fielder Samantha Durand knocked in Ryan with a single to right to make it 3-1.

Dracut sophomore shortstop Allison Ramirez beat out a bunt to load the bases with nobody out, but Meehan looked like she’d get out of the jam with a strikeout and pop fly against the next two hitters. Bishop-Kotarba came up with her big hit, however, and the game was out of reach.

The error meant three of those four runs were unearned, and Falcon head coach Tara Petrocelli admitted after the game that giving Dracut that extra out hurt her team. With that said, she praised her team’s overall effort.

“I thought we played well. I thought we left it all out on the field,” Petrocelli said. “A lot of people didn’t give us half a shot to even be where we are.”

The Falcons, who finish the season 19-4, will certainly be given that shot in 2013. Danvers had three sophomores and three freshmen in its starting lineup Sunday.

“We have a nice nucleus for next year,” Petrocelli said. “Come next March, we’ll put the best team together and we’ll see what we can do.”

Only one team could move on, however, and it’s Dracut. Lauren Ramirez said she and her young teammates aren’t fazed by the big stage of the MIAA state tournament.

“We’ve all played travel, so we’ve all been there,” Ramirez said. “We’ve all been in big games. We’re a really deep team, so I feel like that helps that a lot of us have the experience.”

Danvers will play Winchester (16-5) Monday at 3:30 p.m. at Martin Field for the Division 2 North title. You can likely expect a low-scoring game: Sachem sophomore pitcher Rachael Smith has shut out Reading, Saugus and Newburyport during Winchester’s postseason run. The run Danvers scored Sunday, meanwhile, the first one allowed by Dracut in its three tournament games.

Web gems: Both teams had noteworthy defensive plays in the late innings.

The play of the game came in the bottom of the sixth, when Danvers junior left fielder Nicole Smith caught a fly ball and then threw out Dracut sophomore first baseman Shannon Ramirez trying to score from third. Falcon senior catcher Samantha DiBella had home plate blocked well and applied the tag.

In the top of the fifth, with one out and a runner on first, Gikas tried to bunt her way on base. Dracut knew what was coming, and had its infielders in and the outfielders on the edge of the grass. Allison Ramirez fielded the ball cleanly and fired to Vallante at second base for the force.

Mark that “FC, 6-8” on your scorecard.