Division 2 softball: Defending champ Hampshire shakes off nerves, Easthampton to reach finals



Published: 06-08-2017 1:22 PM

MONTAGUE — Nerves affect even two-time defending state champions before their first playoff game.

The Hampshire Regional softball team swung at pitches outside the strike zone and popped out three times in the first two innings against Easthampton in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament semifinals.

“It was honestly just the beginning of a playoff game jitters,” Hampshire senior Katy O’Connor said. “We worked out of it.”

The top-seeded Raiders led by one run after two innings and eventually stretched the lead out in a 15-0 win to return to the sectional final for the fourth year in a row. They’ll face No. 2 Southwick, which is playing in its first championship game, at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at UMass’ Sortino Field.

“I love that field so much,” O’Connor said. “We’re so used to playing there.”

Wednesday’s semifinal was supposed to be Tuesday at UMass, but rain pushed the game a day later and to Turners Falls. The change in venue didn’t further rattle the Raiders (16-5).

“For me, I was excited. I love playing here because of the rivalry (with Turners Falls),” Hampshire senior Madison Philbrook.

Hampshire’s hitting picked up once the Raiders settled down after the second inning.

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O’Connor led off the third inning with a single, then Brielle Bergeron walked. Justine Legowski hit into a fielder’s choice that scored O’Connor to make it 2-0.

Hannah Marney followed with a two-run single.

“We hadn’t played in about a week, we were a little rusty in the beginning,” Hampshire coach Brian McGan said. “Danielle (McGan) threw well, then we started stinging the ball a little bit.”

O’Connor stung hardest in the fourth inning. She belted a solo homer after two pop outs to start the inning. It sailed through the clear, evening air over the center-field fence and put the Raiders up 5-0.

Easthampton (16-4) couldn’t solve McGan’s pitching to mount a comeback. She struck out six and allowed just five hits. No Eagle baserunner reached third thanks to Philbrook.

Olivia Downer led off the fourth inning with a single. Michelle McDermott followed with a ground out as Downer bolted for third. First baseman Philbrook laced a throw to Marney, who laid down the tag at third for two outs. Samantha Sypek struck out to end that inning.

“We didn’t really boot the ball around,” Brian McGan said.

Hampshire put its foot down in the final two innings, scoring five runs each in the fifth and sixth. The Raiders loaded the bases in both innings but never had a hit for more than two runs.

Danielle McGan, O’Connor, Bergeron, Philbrook and Legowski all had two RBIs, while Bergeron led the team with three hits.

“Most teams are domino effect teams,” O’Connor said.

Easthampton couldn’t knock down the first domino. Downer had two hits, while McDermott and Rachel Robinson each added one.

Robinson struck out five in her first postseason start.

Easthampton, in the semifinals for the second year in a row, played five freshmen. The two-time Bi-County West champions don’t have any seniors.

“It’s a great experience for them,” Easthampton coach Homar Gomez said. “That was a tough loss, but we’re still the champs. Next year we’re gonna come back and show we can beat teams like them.”

Hampshire, on the other hand, is still the Western Mass. champ. The Raiders will try to keep it that way.

Hampshire 15, Easthampton 0

Easthampton         000 000 0 — 0 4 2

Hampshire          103 155 x — 15 16 1

WP—McGan LP—Robinson

Records: Hampshire Regional (16-5) Easthampton (16-4)