TAUNTON, Mass. - Despite having a young team, having battled injuries, and playing against a different level of competition, it has been business as usual for the Case softball team.
The Cardinals (18-5), who have dominated Division 3 for the past several seasons, will be playing in their first D2 South sectional final after a 6-5 victory over Bishop Stang (17-6) on Sunday afternoon at Jack Tripp Field.
“For a team with just one varsity [player] returning and the injuries that we’ve had…it’s amazing,” said Case coach Don DiBiasio.
He added, “The girls are stepping it up, you know. They’re a small school playing with the big girls and they’re handling it well. The South Coast Conference is a strong conference and they play up all year.”
Case jumped into the lead in the bottom of the first. Allison DiCesare led-off with a walk and moved to third on a base hit by Jenna Santerre. After a groundout, DiCesare would come home on a hard hit grounder that bounced off the shoulder of Stang shortstop Madison Machado.
The Cardinals added another run in the second and again it came after a walk to the leadoff hitter. Kaitlyn Kopecky drew the free pass and Julean Newman reached on a fielder’s choice as she attempted to bunt. Ellie Roberts dropped down a perfect bunt and then Kopecky scored on a sac fly by DiCesare.
Both teams struggled at times in the field and errors would get Stang back into the game in the top of the third. MacKenzie Shurtleff singled to start the inning and Addison Landry dropped down a bunt to mover her into scoring position. The throw to first got away allowing Shurtleff to come all the way around and then the throw back in was wild and Landry was able to come home and tie the game.
“The nerves got the best of them,” said DiBiasio. “They played the last five games with errorless ball, so to give up four unearned runs was unacceptable. Hopefully, tomorrow night the bugs will be out of them and they’ll come back and play errorless ball.”
Stang benefited from errors to get back in the game, but an error in the bottom of the third gifted Case a pair of runs to regain the lead. The first two hitters reached -- one on an error and the second from a walk. After Stang pitcher Hannah Carvalho got the lead runner at third twice, she struck out Kopecky, but the ball got away from the catcher and the inning continued.
Newman, the No. 8 hitter in the Case lineup, made Stang pay for the mistake with a single that drove in a pair of runs.
“Our youth showed today; we made some mistakes,” said Stang coach Dan Sylvia. “Maybe it was nerves or maybe the game was too big for them today. It’s a good learning experience for next season.”
DiBiasio was thrilled with the contributions from the bottom of the order. The bottom three hitters accounted for two RBI and scored three runs.
DiBiasio said, “They’ve been doing it all year long…helping us out making the runs go across [and] hitting the ball hard. They’ve been working hard.”
Stang got another unearned run in the fourth inning to make it 4-3 and it stayed that way into the top of the sixth. Machado (2-for-4, two runs scored) led off the inning with a double to left. Two batters later, with Machado at third, Courtney Carroll came through with a two-out single to tie the game again.
Case came right back in the bottom half with a pair of runs. A lead-off walk to Kopecky would be the spark. Newman bunted her into scoring position and Roberts was hit by a pitch. DiCesare drove in her second RBI of the game with a single to left. After a great sliding catch by junior captain Lindsey Florent in left, pitcher Leslie Denis helped her own cause with an RBI single.
“She was keeping us off-balance, keeping everything outside, and changing it up but the kids were on her all day, so I knew they would keep hitting her,” said DiBiasio about the response from his team in the sixth.
In the top of the seventh, Stang had its chance to keep the season alive. An error allowed Florent, who reached on a fielder’s choice, to score and make it 6-5. With runners at second and third and the heart of the order at the plate, Denis induced a pop-up to third from Machado and a grounder from Ferreira to send the Cardinals to another sectional final.
“When we needed a hit, typically we’d get it -- unfortunately not today,” said Sylvia. “We had plenty of opportunities at the end but unfortunately we didn’t do much with it. When your four [hitter] pops up and five [hitter] grounds out to end the game…that’s tough.”
When asked what his message was to his team heading into the seventh, DiBiasio smiled and responded, “Just get the outs; we just need three outs. Again, they played a little sloppy but they managed to pull through it.”
Case will play Bellingham in the D2 South final on Monday night at 7 p.m. at Jack Tripp Field in Taunton.