MONTAGUE, Mass. -- To get to this point, it goes without question that a little luck is needed.
For Agawam, on Friday night, the Brownies received their fair share and then some after pulling out a thrilling 2-1 victory over Marlborough in the Division 1 state semifinal played at Turners Falls High School.
With only three hits to its credit, Agawam won this tilt on the strength of its defense, its cool customer of a pitcher (freshman Allison Wheeler) and a lack of execution by the Panthers.
The Brownies (18-6) is back in the finals for the first time since 1995 when they lost to Bishop Fenwick. They will face Milford on Saturday at 7 p.m. from Rockwood Field in Worcester. Agawam and Milford are no strangers to one another. In last year's state semifinal, the Hawks dominated the Brownies, 13-0.
"Our defense got us here and our defense won this game," said Agawam head coach Kathy Georgina. "Allison [Wheeler] pitched great again. We are ready for Milford. This time we aren't walking in blind like last year. We know Shannon Smith is an excellent pitcher. We know what she can do and we know what we can do."
Against Marlborough, Agawam dodged a number of bullets to survive. The Panthers (17-7) finished the game having left eight runners on base, including seven in scoring position.
Trailing 2-1, Marlborough squandered a golden opportunity to tie or take the lead in the fourth.
With two runners on, Victoria Petrie lined a Wheeler fastball to right for a single. Lead runner Jessica Acosta, who was on second base, was waved around third. But right fielder Mary Kate Reidy threw missile to catcher Rielly Wieners. Just a few feet from home plate, Acosta stopped dead in her tracks and retreated back to third.
"We didn't get flustered," Georgina said. "Allison [Wheeler] showed tremendous maturity out there. That out we got [in the fourth] was a huge break for us.
Meanwhile, trailing runner Jen Bombard had already touched third at that point and went a few feet towards home. But once the senior saw Acosta coming back, Bombard spun around and headed back to second. Acosta barely got back to third safely with Wieners chasing her, but umpires ruled Bombard out because she never stepped back on third in her attempts to return to second base. Now with runners on the corners and two out, Wheeler struck out Erin Coughlin to end the inning.
In the seventh, Marlborough threatened again. Victoria Falco opened by singling to right. A steal and wild pitch moved the junior to third with two out, representing the tying run. But Wheeler got Erin Coughlin to ground out to end the game.
The Panthers jumped on Wheeler for a run in the first after Wieners threw the ball into center field trying to nail Bombard, who was stealing. Marissa Flynn, who reached on an error to start the game, scored easily.
The Brownies, after having trouble with Marlborough pitcher Molly McGuire early, finally got to the hard-throwing senior in the third. A Panther error and a Paige Circosta single put runners at the corners. Wieners then atoned for her earlier mistake by ripping an RBI single to left to tie things at 1-1. Taylor Marcotte followed with a ground ball to second. Flynn, Marlborough's second baseman, tried to go the easy route and throw out pinch-runner Jess Lingenburg streaking toward second. But Flynn's throw was off the mark and went into the outfield allowing Circosta to score the go-ahead run.
"We were able to get out of some tight jams because Allison hit her spots when she needed to," Wieners said. "She missed a couple of times but she really battled through it. Her mental toughness got us through this game. It's all about heart and our ability to manufacture runs when we needed to and do what it takes to get it done."
Marlboro, which finished with nine hits, will come away from this affair knowing the chances it left on the base paths, especially in the fourth and seventh innings. The Panthers also saw another chance to add runs snuffed out in the second. Again with runners on second and third and two out, Flynn smashed a hard grounder just to the right of second base. But Marcotte, Agawam's second baseman, dove to snare the ball and managed to throw out Flynn from her backside by a half step.
"Overall I thought we hit the ball well but just didn't get the clutch hits tonight," said Marlborough head coach Kyle Westcott. "We got a lot of runners on but didn't score when we needed to. It was an unbelievable season. No Marlboro softball team had ever won a district championship prior to this year. It was an amazing group and I'm proud of all of them."