Vale-Cruz Pitches Wahconah to State Semi-Finals
DALTON, Mass. – No hit was bigger than Dani Barry’s on Saturday.
And none traveled a smaller distance.
Barry bunted her way aboard to lead off the top of the sixth and scored on Avery Vale-Cruz’s double to left center to break a scoreless tie and send the Wahconah softball team on to a 2-0 win over Abington in the quarter-finals of the Division 4 State Tournament at Pine Grove Park.
Third-seeded Wahconah (22-2) moves on to Wednesday’s Final Four contest against No. 2 Amesbury at Westfield State University for a berth in the state title game.
On Saturday, Vale-Cruz struck out 13 and allowed just one hit in the complete game win.
There were some scary moments late for Wahconah, but each time, Vale-Cruz shut the door.
In the sixth, a two-out, two-base error put the potential go-ahead run at second for the Hornets, but Vale-Cruz got the next hitter swinging.
In the seventh, she hit the leadoff batter but then struck out the side in order to end the game.
Meanwhile, it took six tries for Wahconah to get the leadoff batter on against Abington’s Shannon Varvitsiotis before Barry finally did the trick.
“Credit to [Abington],” Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher said. “What a great team they are. I thought it was a great pitcher’s duel, and we just had to do something to try to get into some rhythm on offense.
“We hit a couple of balls hard, and they made some good plays. And we made some good plays.”
After Barry’s bunt, the blast from Vale-Cruz to left-center drove in the game’s first run without a throw.
Vale-Cruz then moved to third on a pitch that made it to the backstop and scored an insurance run on a groundball to the right side by Taylar Hickey.
Another successful bunt, this time a sacrifice by Ella Quinto, got Belcher to second with one out. But she attempted to get to third on a fly ball to center, only to be cut down by a strong throw from Abington’s Maddison Perry to end the inning.
Defense was the order of the day for both teams as zeros loomed over the teams from the scoreboard in right field deep into the afternoon.
In the fourth, Wahconah third baseman Olivia Iovieno knocked down a line drive and threw to first to end the inning. One frame later, catcher Olivia Wehner threw out a runner attempting to steal second to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Abington left fielder Bella Abrams made a diving catch to deny Vale-Cruz of a leadoff double.
Of course, Vale-Cruz spent most of her day denying Green Wave hitters access to the basepaths.
“I thought Avery did a good job,” Belcher said. “They made good contact at different times, but she did a good job of sticking to the game plan, and defensively, we did a good job as well.”
Saturday marked the second time in two seasons that one of Belcher’s teams lost in the Western Massachusetts tournament and came back to make a run to the state Final Four.
“No doubt, it’s a challenge getting the team to refocus after that,” said Belcher, also the school’s boys basketball coach. “But I think in both cases, the focus has to be on trusting what got us to that point, like in the Western Mass finals for softball this year.
“We did a lot of good things. We had a bad inning or two. My message was: Let’s get back to what we do well. We did a good job of that. We’ve done a good job of it in the state tournament. But the credit goes to the kids, because it takes an awful lot of mental maturity to get to that point, and this group has really shown that.”