Drury Runs Out of Gas against HampshireAMHERST, Mass. — With the run the Drury softball team has been on in the past three weeks, the Blue Devils were bound to run out of gas at some point.
Drury probably didn't expect that point to be in the Division 2 Western Mass. tournament final, but second-seeded Hampshire didn't really leave the eighth-seeded Blue Devils much of a choice. The Red Raiders came out of the gates swinging, taking advantage of a shaky start by Drury pitcher Cat Record to score four runs in the first inning.
Record settled in from there, but a terrific outing by Hampshire starter Ashlee McGan and flawless play by her defense never allowed the Blue Devils the chance to rally. Drury kept the score close for most of the game, but the Red Raiders eventually pulled away for an 11-1 win at the UMass Softball Complex on Saturday.
Mary Ann Maroni's young and inexperienced club had already surpassed so many expectations this year, but her squad eventually ran into a seasoned Hampshire team which had been in this position before. The Red Raiders (19-2) have won two out the last four Western Mass. titles and have been in the sectional final four years in a row.
"What goes around comes around," Maroni said. "We had the hot bats yesterday [against Wahconah], but they had the hot bats today. They were scorching them and really putting them in there. I think in the first inning, Cat was a little nervous, and she was grooving them right in there. They were on top of it, and they had her number. We needed to keep the ball a little bit inside and a little bit low, but we didn't do it often enough.
"They're a good team. Last year and the year before, they took us out in the first round. This year, it took until the finals to take us out."
The first inning was a tough break for Record, who allowed four runs and just one earned run combined in three tournament wins leading into Saturday's final game. She started the game off just fine, getting Hampshire leadoff hitter Allison Bednarsky to pop up to junior Katie Hancock at shortstop. Like most bad innings, though, Record ran into some control problems that came back to haunt her. She walked the next batter and then hit another to put runners on first and second base with one out. Janelle Gorman then smashed a double to deep center field to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
Senior Lyndsey DeGrenier helped Record out in the next at bat, fielding a blooper at second base and firing across the infield to throw out Gorman at third. It looked as if Record might get out of the inning with minimal damage at that point, but the next three Hampshire batters smoked singles to left field to score two more runs. The bottom of the order was an issue for Record all day long. The Raiders' No. 7-9 hitters were an impressive 5 for 12 with three RBI on the day, while the Blue Devils' last three hitters went 0 for 8 with one run batted in.
"We try to stay aggressive," Hampshire head coach Brian McGan said. "If the ball comes in, we try to pull it. If the pitch is away, we'll go the other way. The kids adjust to the pitch, hopefully. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't."
While she didn't have her best stuff in the first inning, Record's performance the rest of the way was pretty good. She allowed seven more hits and two earned runs the rest of the game before the Raiders' took advantage of four Drury errors to score six runs over the final two frames.
The sophomore starter shouldn't hang her head for too long because of Saturday's outing. Record's improvement this year is a major reason why the Blue Devils (15-7) turned so many heads. She picked up four more wins in the circle from her freshman and sophomore years, lowering her ERA by more than half a run in the process. She also proved to be very durable. pitching all but just one inning of Drury's 22 games this season. Add in her terrific run she had in the tournament in which she defeated her school's No. 1 rival in Hoosac Valley, the tourney's top seed in Palmer and the defending state champion in Wahconah, and Record will return next year with some invaluable experience under her belt.
"She only got taken out of one game this season," Maroni said. "She had to pitch every single inning of every single game. She kept us in the games. She's going to work on her pitching this summer and, hopefully, next year she'll be back and she'll be even better than she was this year."
Once Record got her bearings down, the Blue Devils looked like they could make a run against McGan in the middle innings. The Hampshire starter was very efficient from the circle, picking up the win by allowing one earned run on five hits. She struck out six and allowed only two walks, but one of those allowed senior Danielle Cardinal to reach base to start the top of the fourth. Eighth-grader Arianna Hilchey, who also had a double in the first inning, then put runners on first and second base with a bloop single to shallow right field. Hancock then advanced the runners with a groundout to second base before junior Amanda Ramsdell scored one run with another groundout. The ball nearly got through for a hit up the middle, but Raiders' second baseman Lauren Larison made a great play to range to her right to throw out Ramsdell and keep Drury away from the big inning. McCan then struck out Alison Cellana with Hilchey stranded at third base to end the frame.
"Ashlee pitched a great game," Coach McGan said. "Two games in a row is a little tough on your wear and tear, but she kept the ball down a little bit. [Drury] hit the ball hard sometimes, and they have some good hitters over there."
After the Red Raiders got a run back on an RBI single by Bri Moussette in the bottom of the fourth, junior Laryssa LaPointe gave the Blue Devils some life by smacking a two-out triple to the gap in left-center field. It looked as if she would score when Record grounded a ball to the hole at shortstop in the next at bat, but Savannah Waters snatched it before it could reach the outfield and fired a ball across her body to nail Record by a half a step at first base.
Drury had put the pressure on the best it could, but the Hampshire defense didn't give it an inch the entire game.
"Our defense played very well," McGan said. "We work hard in practice with our defense. Everyday we pound ground balls to them. Savannah made a great play, and it's a momentum breaker for them and a boost for us."
"That was an amazing play that [Waters] had," Maroni said. "One little thing like that or another and you could break the game open. You could get right back in it."
Drury never had a chance to get back into it after that, as its defense betrayed it in the final two innings. An error by Hancock at short allowed one run to score on an RBI triple by Bri Weltlich in the bottom of the fifth. The Raiders would add another run in that frame before scoring four more runs in the sixth on three Devils' errors and two walks and a hit by Record.
"I think their heads went down a little bit," Maroni said. "I think they got down on themselves a little bit and packed it in a little bit."
Despite its poor finish, players like LaPointe, who is one of several newcomers to the team this year, couldn't help but feel good about the season Drury just had. LaPointe transferred in from Mohawk in the fall and was immediately thrust into a starting position. She showed her value on Saturday, going 2 for 3 from the plate and starting two double plays from her third-base position.
"It was definitely hard getting used to everyone and playing on a new team, but I think we have a great bunch this year," LaPointe said. "It's been a great season to be able to come this far and just making it to Western Mass. was a great experience. We had a great start in the beginning of the season. We were on a roll, but we hit a spot and had a little losing steak. We kept on and played with heart, though. We kept going, and the next thing you know we were here."
Maroni is no stranger to playing in Western Mass. finals, having won the tournament three times in the last 10 years. Although her team didn't win the first-place trophy this time around, she said couldn't have been more proud of the team's effort and achievements this season.
"If anybody had said to me at the beginning of the season that we would be here, I would have said, 'No way,'" she said. "I did not have a team. I had 13 individuals. I only had three players back from last season, and these other six girls just came right on the field. Of course, the older girls helped to work them in. Lyndsey did a great job being a captain and a coach out on the field, talking to them all of the time and coaching them out there. It didn't take them very long before they became a team. They're good friends, they do a lot of things together and they decided to let's coalesce on the field and make some things happen.
"I told them when we were leaving the field not to cry because they should be extremely proud of the accomplishments they've made this year. They're a young team, and they did an amazing job, so don't cry."