Drury Takes Out Top-seeded Palmer

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PALMER, Mass. — Drury softball coach Mary Ann Maroni thought her team should have been seeded a little higher when the brackets were released for the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament last week. 

The Blue Devils, who ended up being seeded eighth out of 12 teams, proved their coach had a good argument on Tuesday, traveling down to play top-seeded Palmer in the Western Mass. quarterfinals and coming home with a stunning 3-2 win over a Panthers' squad that had lost just one other game this season. 

"I was surprised that we were seeded eighth," Maroni said in an email last week. "It seems that with the new Walker System we did not get the full four points for beating both Mount Anthony and then Brattleboro. Because they are out-of-state teams, they were deemed Div. 2 teams, the same as us; but they are indeed both Division 1."

The MIAA undervaluing of Drury's schedule came back to bite Palmer, which probably would have rather played sixth-seeded Belchertown or seventh-seeded South Hadley, two teams which both qualified for the tournament with losing records. Instead the Panthers (19-2) got to play a Blue Devils' program that has won three Western Mass. titles in the past 10 years. After Tuesday's quarterfinal victory, Drury (14-6) now advances to play the winner of today's game between No. 4 Mount Greylock and No. 5 Wahconah. The semifinal game will be held at the UMass Softball Complex in Amherst. Game time is scheduled for 5 p.m. on Friday. 

The Blue Devils booked their trip to the sectional semifinals thanks to some steady pitching by sophomore Cat Record and some clutch hitting by her and senior Lyndsey DeGrenier. Record allowed just one earned run on five hits, striking out two and walking three to earn the win. She also escaped out of a pair of bases-loaded, one-out situations in both the sixth and seventh innings to improve her record to 14-6 this season. 

While Record helped to close out the win for Drury, it was DeGrenier who got her team started off on the right foot. Batting leadoff for the first time this year, DeGrenier went 2 for 3 in the game, including hitting a single to start the game. While the Blue Devils were unable to turn that hit into a run, Maroni said it was just what her team needed in order to feel confident against Palmer starter Nicole Handzel. 

"Lyndsey helped us begin the game on a high note," Maroni said. "We asked her to be the leadoff batter, and she helped to set the tone by getting a base hit in her first at bat. She also had a play at second base during the seventh inning that was critical. Cat hit the ball hard to help her cause, and it was good to see Ari Hilchey off of the disabled list." 

Drury eventually broke through in the third inning when DeGrenier was hit by a pitch and Record reached base with a single. Katie Hancock then reached on an error, allowing the visitors to take a 1-0 lead. The Blue Devils then returned the favor in the bottom half of the frame, though, allowing the Panthers to tie the game up thanks to an error at first base. 

Record and Handzel then went toe to toe in the fourth and fifth innings before the Drury pitcher helped her own cause with a leadoff triple to start the sixth. Handzel got the next batter out, but the Palmer defense allowed junior Amanda Ramsdell to reach base on an error right after that. Senior Danielle Cardinal then came through with her team-leading 17th RBI of the year, scoring Record with a single and advancing Ramsdell to third base. Sophomore Alison Cellana then executed a perfect suicide squeeze to score Ramsdell and put the Devils up 3-1. 

The Panthers didn't go down quietly, however, putting the pressure on the Drury defense in both the sixth and seventh frames. A pair of singles by Emily Czala and Nicole Riel and a walk by Niki Prosperi loaded the bases for the hosts with one out in the sixth. Record buckled down, however, and got two fly outs in a row to end the inning.

After leaving the bases loaded in their half of the seventh, the Blue Devils once again found themselves in a bases-loaded jam in bottom half of the inning. Alisha Reynolds started things off with a double to center field, and Palmer looked to have something going when Canyon Pierce drove a ball to DeGrenier at second base in the next at bat. DeGrenier bobbled the ball, but she had the presence of mind to throw to Hancock at second base, where Reynolds was caught wandering too far off of the bag. 

That out would prove to be crucial as the Panthers' next two runners reached base. Palmer scored one run on a fielder's choice, but Drury shortstop Laryssa LaPointe made the final out by catching a pop up in foul territory. 

Handzel was hurt by both her team's errors, allowing one earned run on six hits to take the loss. 

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