Boston High School: Kaitlyn Puza

D1 Central/West: Holy Name 6, Westfield 1

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
WORCESTER, Mass. -- The transcendent climb of the Holy Name softball team did not begin in the postseason. In fact, it started a week prior when the Naps defeated then-unbeaten Nashoba Regional.

That victory game Holy Name a huge lift. One it hasn't come down from since.

On Wednesday night, the Naps faced another unbeaten foe and yet again, took care of business, upending West champion Westfield, 6-1, in the Division 1 state semifinal played at Rockwood Field.

Holy Name (22-2) will square off against Bridgewater-Raynham (24-1) there on Saturday for the state title beginning at 7 p.m. The Naps have played in the state final six times and have yet to win a title.

"Nashoba was the best team and were undefeated and had a great pitcher," Naps head coach Aimee Lee said. "After beating them I think it was a high for us and I think we haven't come down from it and we're still going."

Holy Name took advantage of a few Bombers' jitters in the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. It remained that way until Westfield (23-1) got a run back in the fifth. However, perhaps a bit complacent during the middle frames, the Naps offense re-awoke in their half of the seventh to put this game out of reach.

"I kept telling our girls in the later innings that I can't want this game more than them," Lee said. "I think once Westfield scored that run it brought us back to reality and we started hitting again in the seventh."

With Bridget Mias on base following a bunt single, senior Ama Biney smashed a triple to centerfield. A Heather Drummond (3 hits) double sent Biney to the plate. That was proceeded moments later by a Kelsey Saucier's RBI single and suddenly, Holy Name's was now up by five runs.

"It gets pretty exciting when everyone starts to hit the ball and everyone starts to get up again," Drummond said. "Then hits begin to string along and the other team gets down on themselves and we just keep it going. When we were up 3-1 I didn't feel safe. I wanted us to get more hits and more runs and we were able to."

Westfield, which defeated Longmeadow in the WMass final thanks to Annalise Eak's walk-off RBI single, appeared a bit nervous to start this contest and it eventually showed. Biney opened the first inning by reaching on an error. After stealing second, Drummond brought her home with a single. After Drummond advanced to third on a Saucier ground out, Bombers catcher Kaitlyn Puza tried to pick the junior off following a Sarah McNerney pitch. Unfortunately, the ball sailed into left field and Drummond scored easily with Holy Name's second run.

After Danielle Rocheleau kept the inning going with a single, Lauren Merritt hit a fly ball to centerfield that was dropped by Jessie Pratt. With Rocheleau now standing on third base, Deanna DiPilato sent her home with a ground out.

"I think we were a little tight early on," said Westfield head coach Joe Stella. "Holy Name overall has got to be the best team we've seen this year. They have pitching, defense, speed to burn and they can hit. I thought we calmed down after the first inning. We cut it to 3-1 and were getting our bats on the ball. But in the seventh things went the other way."

Saucer, Holy Name's senior ace pitcher, gave us six hits and struck out nine. McNerney, also a senior, surrendered 10 hits.

"We are a team that wants to score first," said Saucier, who will attend WPI next year. "Usually the team that scores first is the team that carries the momentum into the further innings. Westfield is a very good team. Even if we had a 10 run lead on that team you couldn't feel safe. That's why you have to play every inning as if it is your last and that's how we approached it."

D1 WMass final: Westfield 1, Longmeadow 0

June, 8, 2014
Jun 8
AMHERST, Mass. -- The only thing Annalise Eak knew was she got enough of the sweet spot of her bat on the pitch.

Sprinting down the first base line, head down, it wasn't until Eak had rounded the bag before she realized her teammate Karly Mestello scored the winning run from second base in the bottom of the seventh, lifting Westfield to a 1-0 victory over Longmeadow in Sunday's Western Mass. Division 1 final at UMass' Sortino Field.

With both teams relying heavily on pitching, as expected, the turned into a duel between Lancers fireballer Jill Stockley and Bombers ace Sarah McNerney. As competitive both hurlers are, neither was about to back down to the other which set the tone for the entire game.

Mustering just two hits heading into the decisive frame, Westfield was looking for anyway to score the winner run and keep this contest from going into extra frames. Mestello got things started by looping a lead off single to right that landed in-between three Lancers fielders who converged on the ball. After moving to second on a Rachel Swords sacrifice bunt, the Bombers were given the same opportunity Longmeadow had in the top half of the inning.

While the Lancers failed to capitalize on their chance, the Bombers weren't about to let theirs slip by them. On an 0-2 pitch, Eak drove a Stockley outside fastball into the right-centerfield gap. With Westfield head coach Joe Stella emphatically waving his arm from inside the third base coaches box sending Mestello home, the junior never stopped running and scored without a throw sparking a wild celebration behind home plate.

"I just went up to the plate with the mentality that I have to do this for my teammates," said Eak, a senior. "I got the pitch that I wanted and was zoning in on the one spot where I wanted it and got it. Jill put up one heck of a fight for them but we were fortunate to capitalize on the limited opportunities we had today."

The Bombers (23-0) move on to the state semifinal round where they will meet Central Mass. champ Holy Name (21-2) on Tuesday (7 p.m.) at Worcester State University's Rockwood Field.

For the Lancers (18-5), this marks the second time in as many years they have fallen by a 1-0 count in the sectional championship game. Last year they were defeated by Agawam.

"It's tough no doubt about it," Longmeadow head coach Steve Marcil said. "We know the type of team we played today. Westfield is a great team and have proved it all year. We had some chances but we came up a bit short. Our girls fought to the very end which I'm very proud of.”

Longmeadow had its prime chance in the seventh. Camryn Boutin hit a hard grounder to third that Maddy Atkocaitis made an outstanding diving stop on. But the senior had to rush her throw which sailed just enough up the first base line to allow Boutin to reach. Stockley next laid down a bunt single putting two on with nobody out. With clean-up hitter Ally Mishol now up, some thought Marcil might have her lay another bunt down. Mishol proceeded to smash a hard grounder to Atkocaitis who stepped on third to force Boutin and fired a strike across the diamond to nail Mishol by a step to complete the double play.

McNerney retired Sarah Whitney to end the inning. Atkocaitis, a senior heading to Westfield State University, was solid defensively, making seven put-outs.

"Am I going to take the bat out of my best hitters hands in a situation like that and have her bunt?," said Marcil. "I couldn't. I'm going to let her try and be the hero at that point. It just so happens Ally hit a hard ball to their best and smartest athlete and she made a heads up play where quite honestly how many kids do you think could make a play like that? Give all the credit to Maddy on that play. I'm very proud of my kids and I think we will be back again next year. I felt good about them this year and I feel good about them for next year."

Stockley, only a junior, will lead the Lancers quest for a return trip to UMass next season. Against the Bombers, the UConn commit allowed four hits and struck out six. McNerney was equally impressive, surrendering a pair of singles and fanning four. When these two teams met back in May, McNerney, a senior, came within an out from pitching a no-hitter, before settling on a one-hit 1-0 victory.

McNerney will be the first to tell you that she doesn't possess the same kind of overpowering stuff Stockley has. Instead, she relies heavily on her defense to make the plays behind her.

"Even when they had runners on base I continued to go back to what I know how to do and throw strikes," McNerney said. "We got the outs and here we are now (as Western Mass. champs). My entire defense is amazing and I am so lucky and blessed to have them all behind me. It makes you more-confident knowing you have them behind you. We are one entire team here and everyone contributes. There is not one individual carries the entire team here."

Longmeadow made an initial threat the fourth when, with two out, Stockley reached on an error and took second on a wild pitch. But McNerney left her stranded there. The Bombers' didn't get their first crack until the sixth. Kaitlyn Puza hit a two-out single and swiped second. But Stockley, like McNerney, got the final out to come away unscathed. One frame later however, Westfield would threatened again only this time they didn't walk away disappointed.

"The girls executed at the right time," Stella said. "Stockley pitched great for them and she had us buffaloed for most of the game. It was tough when you have aggressive kids coming to the plate and you've got to tell them to start shortening their swings to somehow get our bats on the ball.

“That final inning was case in point. The girls did what we asked them to do and Annalise gets the big hit for us. Annalise has a lot of power but she also has a long swing. That inning we asked her to cut her swing down and fortunately it worked out.”

Recap: No. 16 Westfield 1, No. 10 Longmeadow 0

May, 9, 2014
May 9
WESTFIELD, Mass. -- They possess all the bells and whistles to be a champion. But for the majority of the state's population that resides on the other side of the I-495 corridor, few people outside of Western Massachusetts know little, if anything, about the Westfield High softball team.

For the Bombers? They could care less about the lack of attention. To a player, this club understands the type of talent they have forged within their little inner circle here and that is the only thing of importance. This team can hit, can pitch, can play defense and aren't afraid to swipe bases at any given time. And, oh by the way, they are a perfect 15-0 after beating one of the state's premier pitchers in Longmeadow senior Jillian Stockley on Thursday.

Westfield parlayed a pair of first-inning singles into a run and made it stand up the rest of the way, edging the Lancers, 1-0.

Senior pitcher Sarah McNerney may not have the same type of velocity Stockley possesses, but was nonetheless brilliant on this day surrendering just one hit – a two-out single in the seventh — and no walks. Longmeadow (10-4) had difficulty with McNerney's low fastball and change of speeds. Often times the Lancers hitters found themselves out on their front foot, routinely killing worms with a plethora of ground balls and the occasional infield pop up. McNerney is not a strikeout pitcher. Instead, the right-hander relies heavily on the strong defensive unit playing behind her.

"My coaches stress low pitching," said McNerney. "He doesn't care about fancy pitches or anything else. He wants to see low pitches and good location. Knowing we're probably not going get the 10 hits we normally do against [Stockley], it does get a little more pressure-packed when you are on defense. We knew we had to just keep playing our game and that's what we did today."

Stockley was equally as dominant, giving up just three hits while striking out 14 (159 for the season).

The best way to get to the UConn-bound righty is to jump on her early and put runners into scoring position to keep the pressure on. Stockley has been known to get stronger as the game progresses and Westfield was well-aware of it. In the first inning, the Bombers followed that script perfectly.

Lead-off batter Jules Sharon opened by laying down a bunt for a single. The senior wasted little time advancing to second after a steal. One out later, Maddy Atkocaitis, the top hitter in Western Mass., who entered with 31 hits, 27 RBI and a .544 batting average, lined a curve ball up the middle to plate Sharon. As a result, that would be the only offense witnessed in this pitcher's duel.

"We were nice and strong today and never letdown our intensity," said Atkocaitis, a senior who will play a couple of miles down the road next season at Westfield State University. "You can never let up on anyone. We have a good social team here and that is what makes us a team. We're one big family."

In the Westfield half of the third, there was an opportunity pad its lead. After Stockley set down the first two batters, Jessie Pratt reached on an error and proceeded to steal second and third. Atkocaitis worked Stockley for a walk and, on the play, took off for second after noticing the Lancers weren't paying any attention to her. But Stockley got herself out of the jam by fanning Kaitlyn Puza.

In the Bombers' fourth, Karly Mestello led off by lining an opposite field single to right. But the junior never got beyond first base as Stockley retired the next three batters.

Meanwhile, McNerney was cruising right along and stood on the threshold of attaining her first career no-hitter. But with two out in the seventh, Ally Mishol put an end to it by beating out an infield single. With the milestone now passed, McNerney shrugged it off and got Shaylee Geier to bounce out to end the game.

"It was a heck of a game," Westfield head coach Joe Stella said. "Stockley is just an excellent pitcher but Sarah [McNerney] really stepped it up for us out there. She's got a bunch of pitches. She tries to keep teams off-balance and she doesn't walk many. She just gets the job done.

“Obviously, we can't overlook the defense behind her. It is a team game and that's one of the things the whole team brings. We've got a little offense and a little defense and Sarah help us on the mound. I felt there was a good chance today that one run would be enough for either team. We were fortunate to get it.”

Recap: No. 14 Agawam 14, No. 5 Westfield 1

May, 2, 2012
AGAWAM, Mass. -- In between pitches yesterday, Agawam ace pitcher Danielle Circosta routinely strolled away from pitchers circle and glanced out toward her younger sister Paige in centerfield. Upon making eye contact, the two would simultaneously take a deep breath together before the senior returned to the pitching rubber to deliver her next pitch.

To some, this act might have served as just another quirky ritual softball players like to do. But there was nothing quirky about it. It was later revealed that Circosta was battling a case of walking pneumonia and this unorthodox practice she was performing was giving her the durability needed in order to be effective.

Obviously well-below 100 percent, Circosta would need squeeze out every last ounce of energy she had in her having to face the region’s top team. As it turned out, the deep breathing routine worked out quite well as Circosta limited previously unbeaten Westfield to six hits and struck out nine en route to a 14-1 mercy-shortened Valley League victory. With the win, the Brownies earned a postseason tournament berth as they improved to 10-2.

“I’m on medication and it can really take its toll out there,” Circosta said. “But when I was out there I just needed to take deep breaths and forget about it. Looking back at my sister, and the two of us taking deep breaths together, really helped me a lot today.”

The Bombers (11-1) grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second inning when leadoff batter Kaitlyn Puza stroked a low fastball deep to center for a triple. On the play, Paige Circosta’s throw sailed over the cutoff allowing Puza to cross the plate.

But from that point forward Circosta was dialed in and kept Westfield’s offense at bay with a solid mixture of on-the-spot fastballs, a riser and an occasional change up. Agawam tied the game in its half of the third, taking advantage of a pair of Bomber errors. In the following frame, the Brownies opened up the flood gates.

Agawam sent 10 to the plate in the fourth, scoring five times in the process to put this one out of reach. Faith Rheault started things by ripping an 0-2 pitch to left for a single. Two sacrifice outs later, Danielle Circosta helped her own cause by slapping another 0-2 pitch into right for an RBI single to put the Brownies ahead to stay.

“You cannot go 0-2 in the count and give up hits like that,” Westfield coach Joe Stella said. “We did that four times today. I hope this is a learning thing for us. We saw some weaknesses today. We know what we need to work on and we’ll move on.”

Bomber sophomore pitcher Sarah McNerney (CG, 21 hits, 4 Ks) did a manageable job keeping her pitches around the plate, however Agawam was feeling it at the plate and sitting dead-red on McNerney’s fastballs. Danielle Stratton allowed the inning to continue by reaching on another error (4 total by Westfield) and Paige Circosta, a junior batting .500, brought in two more runs with a single to left. A Reilly Wieners single was next followed by Rebecca Fondakowski’s line drive to center to plate another run. Alexa Smith, running for Weiners, scored the final tally of the frame after Lauren Brodeur smacked a single to left to make it a 6-1 contest.

“Usually when we get down by a run we never seem to do to well but today we were just so fired up," Danielle Circosta said. “When we got up big I was able to relax and breath more. I didn’t have to worry about things except to just make the pitch and let my defense make the play."

The onslaught continued in the fifth as Agawam scored three more times on RBI by Stratton, Paige Circosta (3 hits, 3 RBI) and Wieners (3 hits, 4 RBI).

The Brownies were hardly finished. In the sixth, they added to the Bombers’ on-going misery. Rhealt and Jenna Fenton each drove in a run and Wieners, a junior who is batting .579 this season, sent three more runner across the plate thanks to a bases-clearing double which then forced umpires to call this contest in accordance with the 12-run mercy rule.

“I could tell when we came here today that something special was going to happen for us,” Brownies coach Kathy Georgina said. “I think now, that once we know how we can play, there’s no going back. I think these girls know what our potential is. Danielle’s pitches were working great and hitting her spot. Knowing her personality I knew she wanted to pitch today. It’s pretty awesome. I think our girls’ confidence after this game will be 10 times greater.”