TAUNTON, Mass. – When two teams are evenly matched, it is one bad hop, one mistake or one bloop hit that can decide the outcome of the game.
Taunton took advantage of each of those on Friday night for a 2-0 win against North Attleborough in a Division 1 South first round game.
In a scoreless game in the bottom of the sixth inning, Kailey March’s grounder took a bad hop off the chest of North second baseman Marissa Gifford and the leadoff hitter hustled for an infield single. The next batter, freshman Meg Navarro, tried to sacrifice, but third baseman Daylin Rhilinger could not field it cleanly. Navarro’s sister Mackenzie followed with another sac bunt, which moved both runners into scoring position.
Rocketeers pitcher Meg Colleran induced a weak liner from freshman clean-up hitter Jordan Wade and walked the catcher Alicia Pavadore, who had a base hit off Colleran in the second inning, to load the bases. Up stepped senior Katelin Morrissey and she dropped the first pitch just in between the shortstop and the left fielder to bring home the only two runs of the game.
Taunton head coach Dave Lewry noted that in a pressure situation like that, he was grateful to see one of his more experienced players at the plate.
“She’s gotten her swing back the last week or two,” he explained. “She’s been a three-year starter for us. You hope to see your senior up in that situation because you know that they’ve been there before.”
Following the game, North Attleborough head coach Bill Wallace could only shake his head at the struggles that his team has had at Taunton’s field in the past few years, including a loss to the Tigers (17-6) earlier this season.
“This is our house of horrors, I think we’re 0-6 here in the last three years,” he reflected.
Wallace continued, “In a game like this, in a game where both pitchers are dealing, it’s going to take a bloop here or a lucky bounce there and she couldn’t have thrown it in a better place. That was the Bermuda Triangle.”
Lewry admitted that he said just that to Wallace when they shook hands at home plate following the game. He remarked, “Like I told Bill afterwards, you knew there was going to be a mistake and then there was going to be a bloop hit. Fortunately, it happened for us and we were able to pull it out.”
The game finished in barely over an hour, mostly due to the strength of the two pitchers that stepped into the circle.
Jesse Aleixo did not allow a base runner for 3 1/3 innings before a swinging bunt single by Rose Mooney, who was thrown out stealing second two pitches later. Following the hit, Aleixo retired the final 10 North Attleborough batters that she faced.
“Jesse is our key obviously,” Lewry said about the junior hurler. “Meg Colleran is a tremendous pitcher but Jesse can hang with her and keeps us in the game.”
Aleixo was modest about her pitching performance and passed much of the credit on to her batterymate.
“Honestly, my catcher Alicia [Pavadore] calls all of the pitches and she’s so good,” Aleixo said. “She just called the right pitches and they worked every time.”
Colleran was also solid. She gave up only five hits (only two of which were hit hard) and struck out four batters. Aleixo finished with five strikeouts but, unusually for a top-level softball game, neither pitcher recorded a strikeout after the third inning. Both defenses came up with big plays.
Gifford, in particular, came up big for North. The second baseman made a sliding stop to rob Pavadore of a hit to end the fourth and started the fifth with a leaping grab of a soft liner by Morrissey. The middle of the Rocketeers order tried to get something going in the fifth, but Meg Wynn lined out hard to center and right fielder Lauren Mitsairis made a sliding grab on a sinking liner by Jackie Del Bonis.
When the brackets were released, the groans of disappointment could be heard from both North Attleborough (14-7) and Taunton, as the two league rivals were hoping to avoid each other until later in the tournament. This was the third meeting between the Hockomock League sides this season and they have combined for 25 innings and a cumulative score of 4-2 in those three games.
Lewry commented, “We’d played 18 innings against them already this season and we each scored two runs. I don’t think that you’ll find two teams more evenly matched. Neither one of us were thrilled when we saw the match-up in the first round.”
Wallace echoed those sentiments, “They’re a very good team and I’m sure he looked at the draw and said, ‘Oh no,’ just like we did.”
Taunton now awaits the winner of top seeded Bridgewater-Raynham and No. 16 seed Dighton-Rehoboth.
The Tigers are on a roll, having won 14 of the last 16 games that they have played (since a 3-4 start) and Aleixo believes that Taunton can compete with any team in the sectional.
“We have a lot of confidence,” she said. “We still have to play really tough and stay really focused, but I think we can beat anyone that we play.”