AGAWAM, Mass. -- Over the last few seasons, Minnechaug Regional has played the 'almost game.'
The Falcons have been teasing the general public with their frequent trips to the Western Mass. Division 1 softball tournament only to come up short in their quest for a district championship. Perhaps Minnechaug's best chance came in 2012, when it was the No. 1 seed heading into the tourney. But the Falcons lost out to Agawam in the title game.
But this season might be different. Minnechaug has been leaving its stamp on the competition thus far and appear to have the all the ingredients to make a strong run at a Western Mass. crown and maybe beyond.
On Wednesday, in a much-anticipated showdown against Valley League foe Agawam, the Falcons, who last won a WMass. crown in 2009, proved they are a team to reckoned with after downing the Brownies, 6-4.
For No. 11 Minnechaug, the victory puts them at 13-1, while Agawam drops to 10-3.
Leading 4-3 entering the seventh inning, the Falcons picked up a pair of important runs that spelled the difference. That's because the Brownies plated a run in the bottom half of the inning and had two runners in scoring position, including the tying run on second, with two out. But Falcons pitcher Olivia Guyer would leave them stranded after striking out Alyssa Eggleston to seal the triumph.
"I give our kids a lot of credit because they do a lot of stuff during the off-season such as working with hitting coaches and other things like that," said Falcons head coach Rob Baroni. "We try to spend a lot of time during practice working on situational stuff and hitting drills and it has paid off. Our girls have a lot of confidence swinging the bat."
Minnechaug swung the bats effectively against Agawam ace Allison Wheeler, tagging her for 11 hits. The Falcons put Wheeler in a hole early after scoring three times in the opening frame. With one out, Paulina Modestow singled and Victoria Veaulieu walked. Both came home moments later on Rachel Crafts' triple into the gap between left-centerfield. After Wheeler fanned Emma Hicklen, Rachel Breton came through with an infield single with Crafts crossing the plate.
Over the first three innings, Agawam would chip away at the deficit. In the bottom of the first, the Brownies loaded the bases with one out. Jessica Lingenberg then hit a comebacker to Guyer who immediately threw home for the force out. But in her haste to try and nail Lingenberg for the double play, catcher Patricia Murphy threw the ball into right field resulting in a run. Guyer managed to pitch her way out of additional trouble, allowing just the lone run.
Agawam would add another score in the second. Guyer (12 hits, 2 K) retired the first two batters before serving up a home run to Sabrinna Dubiel to make it 3-2.
The Brownies tied the game the following inning. Maria Moccio reached on an errant throw by Breton from her shortstop position which put her on second base before Taylor Marcotte followed by stroking an RBI single down the right-field line.
After a shaky opening frame, Wheeler, who struck out six, began to settle down as she quieted the Falcons over the next three innings. But in the fourth, the junior gave up a triple to Modestow (3-for-4) and an RBI single off the bat of Beaulieu as Minnechaug reclaimed the lead.
"I'm so proud of my team," said Modestow, who will play volleyball at the University of Hartford next season. "Everyone came through in support of this win. As a team we all do our jobs and all of us know we can be a threat at the plate. That's the mentality everyone has stepping into the batter's box. You go up there and take what is given and do the best you can with it. This win is a huge confidence booster for us."
After scoring its three runs, Agawam's offense went silent during the middle innings. The Brownies put up a mild threat in the fifth but didn't score as Guyer worked herself out of the jam.
Realizing a one run lead was too close for comfort, Minnechaug came up big in the final inning. Murphy opened with a single raced home on Modestow's double. Modestow came up a home run shy of hitting for the cycle. With two out, Crafts looped a ball into short right field that second baseman Marcotte dropped in which Modestow scored easily to make it 6-3.
"We just try to compete on every pitch whether it be offensively or defensively and try to remained focused," Baroni said. "That's what we did today. It was nice to get those couple of runs in the seventh and it forced them to chase a little bit. Defensively, I thought our girls did a nice job overall today. Errors happen but if you are ready for the ball and you are assertive and aggressive you will make the right play most of the time."
To the Brownies credit, they never stopped playing. Singles by Wheeler and Moccio (3 hits) opened the bottom of the seventh. Guyer then proceeded to set down Marcotte (3-for-4) and Lingenberg before Rebecca Uschmann came through with a single up the middle, scoring Wheeler.
A passed ball moved both base runners up before Guyer settled down by retiring Eggleston to close things out.
"We had the bases loaded and had runners on second and third a few times but didn't get that key hit we needed," Brownies head coach Kathy Georgina said. "Had we done that, I think it would have been a much different game. We hit well today but just not at the right times. I knew Minnechaug was a very good hitting team but I also knew that we would hit well off of their pitcher. I felt confident that we would get those three runs back early. I wish we had scored more but what can you do?"