“I like proving the boys wrong:” Belchertown’s Rioghán Auffrey, Eliza Boyko starring on 12U All-Star baseball team

Belchertown’s Rioghán Auffrey delivers a pitch during the second inning of a 12U All-Star game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton.

Belchertown’s Rioghán Auffrey delivers a pitch during the second inning of a 12U All-Star game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Belchertown’s Eliza Boyko (4) watches for a sign while at the plate during a 12U All-Star game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton.

Belchertown’s Eliza Boyko (4) watches for a sign while at the plate during a 12U All-Star game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Belchertown’s Rioghán Auffrey rounds second base and heads toward third during a 12U All-Star game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton.

Belchertown’s Rioghán Auffrey rounds second base and heads toward third during a 12U All-Star game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

The Belchertown 12U All-Stars huddle between innings during a game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton.

The Belchertown 12U All-Stars huddle between innings during a game against Northampton on Wednesday night at McDonald Field in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 07-04-2024 1:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — During one of the Belchertown 12U All-Star baseball team’s games earlier this summer, assistant coach Kevin Auffrey overheard one of the kids on the opposing team say something that cracked him up.

His daughter, Rioghán, was playing shortstop for Belchertown, and had pitched against the team they were playing the year before. The opposing player said, “she was on the team last year, I hope she doesn’t come in and pitch,” because Rioghán had shut them down.

Although she didn’t pitch in that game, Northampton wasn’t able to avoid the hard-throwing right-hander on Wednesday evening. Rioghán tossed a complete-game shutout, including eight strikeouts, while scattering four hits and one walk – leading Belchertown to a 13-1 win at McDonald Field. She surrended just an unearned run in the first inning. It was pure mastery from there.

Rioghán also added three hits, one RBI and two runs at the plate, doing it all on both sides of the diamond.

“I just have fun playing the sport,” she said. “Being a leader and trying to get people fired up is really fun.”

“I’ve had her for two seasons this year between spring and summer, and she’s the most consistent pitcher I’ve had,” Belchertown 12U head coach Stefan Audet added. “Even if she gets hit one inning, it doesn’t rattle her. And that happened in the first inning today. They scored a run, then she re-grouped and pounded the strike zone the rest of the way. She’s also one of our better hitters; just a great all-around player.”

A girl sprinkled here and there on a youth baseball team isn’t far from ordinary. But two is a complete rarity. Well, Belchertown doesn’t just have Rioghán, they’ve also got Eliza Boyko – a true Swiss-army knife who can play any position on the field while providing a steady bat in the lineup.

“This is the first time I’ve ever seen two girls on an All-Star team, and I’ve been coaching or have at least been a part of Belchertown Little League for 10 years,” Kevin Auffrey said. “Having two girls on an All-Star team is special, seeing how they can show up and play with the guys.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

High-speed police chase in Hadley ends in crash, arrest on Hampton Inn lawn
Ashfield Lake House reopening under new ownership, management
Yankee Candle consolidation prompts loss of 100 jobs
Music in the sky: Summit House Sunset Concert Series returns to its 173-year-old home
Demographic changes fuel enrollment fears at UMass
Herrell’s Ice Cream to open pop-up shop in North Amherst this summer

Boyko reached base twice on Wednesday, and came around to score both times. She also caught a few innings behind the plate, her strong connection with Rioghán on full display. Boyko was catching in the first inning when Rioghán struck out three batters.

The duo had huge performances to lead Belchertown to a win after the team hadn’t scored a run in their previous three games.

“They’re growing as a bond,” Audet said. “Girl-to-girl pitching is impressive anyways, but to do it at this level and to dominate at this level as well is something different.”

Both Rioghán and Eliza cringed when the word ‘softball’ was brought up postgame. Not only have they never played it, they’ve never even thought about it.

Rioghán’s older brother played baseball when she was growing up, so, naturally, she turned to her father and said, “daddy, I’m playing baseball when I grow up.”

Kevin didn’t bat an eye.

“Three years old she was always at the field, and she wanted to play baseball,” he said. “I told her, ‘OK.’ And she still doesn’t wanna play softball.”

“I like proving the boys wrong,” Rioghán Auffrey said. “I like showing them up and showing them that I can play too.”

Eliza had a similar feeling toward baseball. The sport simply felt right, as did a baseball bat in her hands.

“It never came up, and it actually isn’t in the conversation right now,” Chris Boyko, her father, said of softball.

“Baseball is just better,” Eliza Boyko added. “It just is.”

Even as they get older and high school approaches, both fathers are willing to go through all of the steps required to keep them in a baseball uniform. Rioghán and Eliza have seen a few girls on varsity teams throughout western Massachusetts, which gives them all the reassurance they need to stick with it.

At this point, both being 12 years old, they’re going to play baseball for as long as they can.

“If we were gonna switch now, we would have to start over and learn a different sport,” Eliza Boyko said. “It’s too late. Softball is [out of the picture] right now.”

Neither girl wants to take a break, either. They may be subbed out sparingly so everyone on the team gets playing time, but for the most part they play every inning of every game.

And Rioghán and Eliza aren’t out there because it’s something to do or because their parents forced them to, like some kids their age. They want to win, and their competitiveness is starting to rub off on the rest of the team.

“They’re not just on the team, as you can tell by their contributions,” Chris Boyko said. “They aren’t just thrown out there, they’re playing catcher, third base, pitcher – they’re both core parts of our team.”

Rioghán Auffrey and Eliza Boyko are baseball players, and that’s all there is to it.

“I make sure people treat them as 12U baseball players, not girls,” Audet said. “They understand what they’re out there for, and that’s to play baseball – and they know how to play it better than most of the boys around the league. They block all the negative energy out and focus on the game. That’s what makes them so special.”