Softball: Ella Schaeffer tosses gem, South Hadley blanks Easthampton 1-0 in season opener (PHOTOS)

South Hadley’s Ella Schaeffer (14) delivers a pitch against Easthampton during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.

South Hadley’s Ella Schaeffer (14) delivers a pitch against Easthampton during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

South Hadley catcher Ara Powers picks up an Easthampton bunt attempt and fires to first base for an out during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.

South Hadley catcher Ara Powers picks up an Easthampton bunt attempt and fires to first base for an out during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Easthampton shortstop Kayley Downie (11) fields a ground ball and fires to first base for an out against South Hadley during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.

Easthampton shortstop Kayley Downie (11) fields a ground ball and fires to first base for an out against South Hadley during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Easthampton’s Megan Fickett (8) lays down a bunt against South Hadley during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.

Easthampton’s Megan Fickett (8) lays down a bunt against South Hadley during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

South Hadley’s Sophia Butler lays down a bunt against Easthampton during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.

South Hadley’s Sophia Butler lays down a bunt against Easthampton during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Easthampton’s Rosie Follet delivers a pitch against South Hadley during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton.

Easthampton’s Rosie Follet delivers a pitch against South Hadley during the visiting Tigers’ 1-0 victory on Monday at Nonotuck Park in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By CONNOR PIGNATELLO

Staff Writer

Published: 04-01-2024 7:48 PM

Modified: 04-01-2024 8:12 PM


EASTHAMPTON – After an offseason spent playing travel ball, Ella Schaeffer was counting down the days until South Hadley’s first game of the season at Easthampton.

After a playoff loss two years ago on the same field, Schaeffer said she started out nervous. But those nerves didn’t show. 

Schaeffer struck out 14 – including 10 straight across the first four innings – to lead South Hadley to a 1-0 win over Easthampton on a 65-degree Monday afternoon at Nonotuck Park.

“This is the most beautiful day to ever start a game,” Schaeffer said. “The sun shining towards the end, it was almost like a sign.”

The game’s lone run was scored on a catcher’s interference call drawn by South Hadley’s Grace Matyszewski with the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth. Easthampton threatened in the bottom of the seventh, notching their only two hits of the game and moving a runner to third with two outs, but Eagles pitcher Rosie Follet’s hard liner to left field was gloved by Matyszewski to end the game.

Follet threw all seven innings, allowing one run on four hits and three walks with 10 strikeouts. But Easthampton’s offense could never get going against Schaeffer, who held the Eagles to just four baserunners – two singles, one walk and one error.

“It’s just the location,” South Hadley head coach Junior Perez said. “Whatever pitch you call, it’s there. It’s the consistency (too), it’s hard to match the consistency. It takes pressure off the defense.”

Easthampton head coach Corey Robinson knew the challenge his team was up against.

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“I coached her all last summer,” Robinson said of Schaeffer. “She’s a beast. She threw three games for me last summer in one day and beat two high-level 18U teams and we were a 16U team. I knew what we were getting into here.”

Easthampton had practiced at Nonotuck Park just twice in its two weeks of preseason prior to Monday’s game. The Eagles hit against the pitching machine once and played a scrimmage over the weekend. Then, in the first game of the season, they had to face Schaeffer, who is just 22 strikeouts shy of 500 at the beginning of her junior year.

“She puts so much pressure on you,” Robinson said. “Because if you give up a run, it’s hard to get one back… and once they score, now you’ve got to get two on her.”

After they didn’t put any balls in play the first time through the order, Easthampton began bunting more often to try to get runners on base. That strategy forced an error from South Hadley in the sixth inning, but Easthampton stranded Christine Raymond on third base.

“It’s not easy bunting that pitch either,” Robinson said. “It’s just as hard hitting it. We had some success with the bunts, so I think next time we’re going to go to it a little bit earlier.”

Games like this are useful for both teams because the MIAA’s expanded state playoff format weighs strength of schedule and run differential. This is the third season of the new statewide format.

Easthampton and South Hadley both expect to fight for Western Mass. titles and contend in the state tournament. Both teams won 15-plus games in 2023, and should be in that ballpark again in 2024.

After an undefeated league record in the Suburban West last year, South Hadley has moved up into the Valley Wheel, which includes Easthampton. Both teams will play difficult league and non-league schedules. 

As Robinson told his team, a 1-0 loss to a team with a good record isn’t much different than a 1-0 win. So when it comes time for playoff seeding in May, the 1-0 decision on Monday afternoon may serve to help both teams.