Seeking 1st state title since 2016, Hampshire Regional preps for top-seeded Joseph Case in Div. 4 championship game

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 06-15-2023 8:28 PM

It’s hard to call the Hampshire Regional softball team underdogs against any opponent – every year, the Raiders have shown that they’re among the teams to beat in Western Mass., and consistently have proven themselves to be among the best of the best in the state. Hampshire has reached the state semifinals in seven of the last 10 tournaments (excluding the 2020 tournament which was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

But the 2022-23 season was a bit of a question mark after the team graduated a bevy of seniors, leaving crucial spots like second base and catcher needing to be filled by younger players. 

The Raiders have silenced the doubters, advancing to the MIAA Division 4 state final for the first time since they won it all back in 2016, the second of back-to-back titles for the program. Hampshire will play for the title on Friday at 5:30 p.m. against No. 1 Joseph Case at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass.

Hampshire has relied on a mix of upperclassmen and seasoned veterans, led by ace pitcher Joss Mettey, and younger players who have stepped up in major ways, highlighted by twins Ryanne and Raegan Dubay, who filled those all-important spots at second and behind the plate. 

For seniors like Mettey and Emma Czarniecki, it’s a full-circle moment. 

“Coming to (Hampshire from Easthampton) was difficult, but that year, we had a really, really good run, and we ended up losing the first game of the states,” Mettey said on her first season with Hampshire. “We always said we'd try to get back here and we never knew it would be this year.”

The Raiders have come close – they made it to the state semifinals again in 2021, and fell unexpectedly last year in the quarterfinals to Littleton. But this is the first time that the team has made it back to the state championship game, where they are the underdogs in more than one sense. The No. 2 Raiders will face No. 1 Joseph Case, which made it to the state final last year, dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Amesbury.

“They're number one for a reason. They're a seasoned team, they've been there last year. They have most of the kids back. I recognize 90 percent of the faces that were on the team last year. So that's probably the biggest thing,” Hampshire head coach Brian McGan said. “I think we match up with them pretty good as far as position to position, but the experience and being there before is going to be the little bump they have above us.”

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Experience has been the supposed X-factor working against Hampshire all season long, but it hasn’t stopped it from putting together a memorable year. Players like the Dubays and fellow eighth-grader Rachael Hickox, as well as sophomores CC Thayer and Teagan Charles have played far above their age this season, helping the team to a Western Mass. title and 21-4 record.

“Regardless of how young we are, I think we just have a lot of talent here at Hampshire and everybody works really hard, regardless if they're in middle school or high school,” Czarniecki said. “I think that our hard work this year really shows, because nobody thought we'd make it here and here we are in the state finals.” 

The Raiders will need to rely on both their bats and defense to get past Case, something they’ve been working on all postseason long. Throughout both the Western Mass. and Division 4 state tourneys, they’ve outscored their opponents 64-11, allowing more than two runs just once in their 11-7 quarterfinal  win against Amesbury.

They expect Friday’s game to be a tight matchup, like their 3-1 win against Clinton on Tueday in the state semis. It’s not going to be an easy game for the Raiders, but if any team has shown that they can pull off the improbable this year, it’s been Hampshire. 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.]]>