TAUNTON, Mass. – In the biggest moments, the best players need to be counted on. Under pressure, teams rely on the stars to step up, raise their games, and find a way to win. On Sunday evening at Jack Tripp Field at Taunton High, the consensus best player in the state and three-time Gatorade Player of the Year demonstrated once again why she receives those accolades.
Milford’s Shannon Smith reached base in all four at-bats, smashed a three-run homer, and struck out nine batters to lead the Scarlet Hawks to a dominating 7-0 victory over Bridgewater-Raynham in the Division 1 South sectional final. It was a meeting of the sectional’s top two seeds and the top two teams in the statewide, ESPNBoston.com Top 25 poll, but in the end it was all about Smith and the Hawks.
Smith explained her approach against the Old Colony League champs.
She remarked, “They have some pretty good hitters and I just tried to keep breaking different zones – inside/outside, up/down, just to make sure that they weren’t expecting one certain spot.”
Smith added, “After the first inning, I adjusted to the umpire and we were good to go.”
The Trojans had an opportunity to change the story in the bottom of the first inning. Madi Shaw led-off with a double down the leftfield line and Stacey Korotsky followed with a walk. Chelsea Correia popped it up on the infield, but a tangle at first base allowed the ball to drop and the runners to advance on the infield fly rule.
With two runners in scoring position and only one out, the Trojans looked like they were going to be the first team to score on Milford (23-1) in the postseason. But, cleanup hitter Emily Kurkul bunted a liner right back to Smith, who then fired to third to double up Shaw and escape the jam.
Smith spoke after the game about the importance of that sequence.
“We start off the game a little shaky defensively too; I think we’re a little unsure- there’s a lot of pressure,” Smith said. “It really gave us a lot of momentum, and a lot of confidence too, and it relaxed us to get out of that.”
The game was scoreless into the top of the third, when Smith struck with a blast to left. Prior to Smith’s at bat and with a runner on base, senior Lauren Hanna battled B-R’s sophomore pitcher Sarah Dawson and fouled away several two-strike pitches to draw a walk that continued the inning. Smith promptly stepped up and made it 3-0 by following the plan that the team scouted in B-R’s win over Silver Lake.
“We watched them on Thursday, I guess, and we saw that she really pounded the inside corner for pretty much the whole game,” said Smith about Milford’s gameplan against Dawson. “I knew that she was coming inside and in my first at bat I took it deep, but not quite out…I knew where it was coming the second time and I really got adjusted to her and got a good piece.”
After the game, Milford head coach Brian Macchi made sure to highlight Hanna’s contribution to the big inning.
He commented, “It was just a real hard-fought at bat by Lauren Hanna that I have to keep going back to that allows that to happen. Without that walk, Shannon never gets up with anybody on. So, it changes the whole complexion of that game.”
Smith settled into a groove and allowed only two base runners (both with two outs) after the first inning, while Dawson was struggling against a patient and potent Milford line-up. Macchi credited the team’s approach and the work that it did in the cage for being successful at the plate.
“We’ve been practicing for three straight days…working that inside corner and making sure that we’re ready to clear our hips and drive the ball,” he said. “The girls bought into it for three days of work and did an outstanding job today.”
The Hawks, who finished with nine hits, broke the game open by batting around in the fifth.
A hit, a walk, and an error loaded the bases for senior Caroline Fairbanks, who lined a two-run single to left to make it 5-0. Sophomore Taylor LeBrun drove in a run with a single and then freshman Jill Powers, who went 2-2 with a walk, brought home a run with a hit of her own.
The 6-8 hitters in the Milford lineup reached base a combined six times, which Macchi believes is crucial to the team’s success offensively.
He said, “We had an inning where Allie Piergustavo got a hit, Jill [Powers] got a base hit, and Lizzie [Stallone] just missed getting a hit, but it allowed us to get back up to Sam [Bonvino, lead-off hitter]. Turning that line-up over is just as good as getting RBI’s sometimes because it allows the top of the line-up to do the damage.”
The loss was the first of the season for the Trojans, who finish at 23-1. Meanwhile, the defending state champions will advance to the Eastern Mass. final on Tuesday night against the North sectional champs, Central Catholic.
D2 South Final: Bishop Stang 5, Dedham 3
In Sunday’s improbable afternoon match-up, the no. 13 seed Bishop Stang claimed the Division 2 South title with a 5-3 win over no. 18 seed Dedham. Neither team was expected to make much noise coming into the postseason, but the Spartans would take home the hardware at Taunton High.
Stang came into the game on the heels of an 11-inning, 5-1 victory over Eastern Athletic Conference rivals Coyle-Cassidy and jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first. Dedham answered back with a pair of runs in the second on hits by Kristina Mitchell and Brianna Dozier.
The Spartan stormed right back in the fourth highlighted by a two-run double from second baseman Katie Wood, which was followed by another a double from Nicole Andrade. A Dedham error allowed an unearned run to score and it was 5-2 after four innings.
Dedham would get a run back in the sixth but failed to create any chances in its final at bat, giving Stang an unlikely sectional championship.