Young Hurricanes Earn 'Team Win' in Western Mass Final

By Stephen Sports
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WESTFIELD, Mass. – It was the bottom of the seventh inning, and the seven-time Western Mass champions were smelling blood.
Top-seeded Turners Falls, which has turned the Western Massachusetts tournament into its invitational tournament in recent years, played from behind all afternoon against No. 2 Hoosac Valley in Tuesday’s Class D final.
And the Thunder got something going late, scoring two runs to make it a 5-4 game and putting another runner in scoring position with just one out.
But the Hurricanes’ Rylynn Witek got a fly ball to center fielder Nora Kondel and a swinging third strike to end the game and give Hoosac Valley its first Western Mass title in more than a generation.
It definitely wasn’t easy.
“I was actually really nervous,” Witek said of the seventh. “I felt like I was going to puke, honestly.
“But I just tried to work my pitches. I had faith in my girls to back me up. They put the ball in play and were getting close there. But we closed it out. I’m so proud of us.”
Not a bad way to end the tourney for a team that lost its first three games and started the season with a 2-4 record.
But Hoosac Valley (15-5) is not done yet. The Hurricanes and Thunder learn on Wednesday when and against who they will begin play in the state tournament that begins at the end of the week.
For now, though Witek and her teammates get to enjoy a couple of true rarities – a Hurricane regional championship off the hardwood and a Turners Falls loss in the Western Mass tourney.
“I’m so proud of them,” Hoosac Valley coach Mike Ameen said. “Twenty-five years or something since Hoosac Valley won a championship? I’ve been coaching here 15 years, 12 years, and I’ve been in finals. We got beat by [Turners Falls], 7-0, six years ago.
“I don’t really have words. Fantastic kids.”
With a big emphasis on the word “kid.”
“Second baseman is an eighth-grader, the shortstop is an eighth-grader, the third baseman is an eighth-grader, the left fielder is an eighth-grader, the center fielder is an eighth-grader, she’s a ninth-grader out in right,” Ameen said. “And we won a Western Mass championship.”
One of the Hurricanes’ veterans is Witek, who could not contain her pride about how the younger members of the team stepped up all season.
“At the beginning of the year, we had girls who couldn’t even throw or catch,” Witek said. “We had balls going off the [gym] walls, breaking things. So for us to be here right now is surreal.
“I’m so super proud of them, how far they’ve come. And I’m glad they get to experience something like this. This is great.”
The Hurricanes cashed in on an error and some control problems by Turners Falls’ pitcher to score two runs in the first inning on Tuesday.
Gracelyn Wright reached on an outfield error, and Izzy Tart reached on a fielder’s choice before both came home on pitches to the backstop.
In the third, Hoosac Valley stretched its lead when Ella Bissaillon drew a leadoff walk, moved up on a wild pitch and scored from second on Wright’s sacrifice bunt to make it 3-0.
Turners got one back in the bottom of the fourth, but Hoosac Valley answered when Tart (3-for-4) singled and scored on an error in the fifth.
“Izzy had a great game,” Ameen said. “She puts the ball in play, and she hit the ball hard.”
In the top of the seventh, after the Thunder cut the deficit back to 4-2, Tart ripped an RBI single up the middle to drive in Wright and give the Hurricanes a three-run cushion going to the bottom of the frame.
It was the only RBI on the day for an opportunistic Hoosac Valley team that took advantage of what the defense gave it – and won when the opponent took away the Hurricanes’ biggest offensive weapon, Witek (14 strikeouts), who came in hitting .500 and has more than 100 hits in her career in addition to being the ace in the circle.
“[Witek] got us here, but you see the score?” Ameen said. “We won, 5-4. Rylynn Witek went 0-for-4. She didn’t even get on first. But we scored five runs, and they scored four.
“So it’s a team win. Rylynn got us here. The team won the game.”
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