Division 2 softball: Hampshire, Grafton square off in state semifinal

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

@kylegrbwsk

Published: 06-13-2017 1:01 AM

WESTHAMPTON — Hampshire Regional’s last postseason softball loss occurred June 11, 2014.

Grafton beat the Raiders 2-0 at Worcester State in the Division 2 state semifinals.

Since then, Hampshire has won three more Western Massachusetts championships and two straight state titles.

The two teams will match up again in the state semifinals at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Hudson High School, each looking for a berth in the state title game.

“I think it adds a bit of rivalry,” Hampshire senior pitcher Danielle McGan said. “It’ll be fun to play them again to prove that we’re ready this year.”

McGan is one of only two Raiders who faced Grafton in 2014. She and Katy O’Connor both went 0-for-3 in that game as freshmen.

Now seniors, they lead one of western Massachusetts’ most potent offenses.

Hampshire (17-5) has scored 218 runs this season and hit 21 homers. The Raiders boast six players hitting at least .300 led by O’Connor at .538. She has nine homers and 34 RBIs.

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“The approach all year and my entire career as a coach here has been fundamentals,” Hampshire coach Brian McGan said.

Those fundamentals will be tested against Grafton’s double-barrel pitching staff. Grafton (18-5) has alternated between two arms to reach this point. Jess Evans has thrown 68 innings with a .21 ERA and 120 strikeouts, while Savannah Small has a 1.28 ERA in 70 innings and struck out 97. They combined for just 34 walks. Grafton hasn’t allowed a run in three postseason games so far.

“We’d like to jump on top. I think that made it easier against Southwick” in the Western Mass. finals, Brian McGan said. “If we have to keep it zeroes, that’s OK too.”

Danielle McGan took over in the circle against Chicopee Comp on May 10 after three relief appearances. She’s allowed 14 runs in 10 games. Three came against Division 3 Western Mass. champion Turners Falls on May 25 and six were against Ludlow two days before. McGan shut out Easthampton in the sectional semifinals and worked through trouble against Southwick in the final.

“I’m just trying to hit my spots and keep my speed up and know that my defense has my back either way,” she said.

This will be her first state tournament game pitching, but she started at third base in the past two state championship games. Hampshire returns five players from last year’s state title team and has three players from their 2015 squad.

The Raiders’ leaders know how to handle the pressure of a state semifinal and are preparing their younger teammates.

“We don’t want to put it in their head too much,” Hampshire senior catcher Justine Legowski said. “We don’t try to hype it up as much to freak them out.”

Hampshire’s youth has served it so far. The left side of the Raiders’ infield features eighth-grader Maggie Rubeck and freshman Hannah Marney. Sophomore Brooke Kavanaugh plays in left field. They’ll be experiencing the semifinal environment for the first time, but have plenty of leadership from the Raiders’ five seniors.

“A lot of people didn’t have faith in us because we lost so many players,” Danielle McGan said. “We just really want to prove them wrong.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com.

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