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.”