Wahconah softball team going back to UMass after beating Frontier in Western Mass. D-II quarterfinals
"It means a lot" to be going back, Wahconah catcher Jess Warren said. "I'm definitely excited. It's very emotional for me, because the last time we were there, it was my freshman year. Last year, with the rainouts, we didn't get to play there.
"It's definitely a big emotional thing, but I'm excited, and I know the girls are."
That wasn't all Warren had to be excited about. The Wahconah senior hit two inside-the-park home runs and drove in four as third-seeded Wahconah beat No. 6 Frontier Regional 10-1 Monday night at Pinegrove Park in a Western Massachusetts Division II quarterfinal.
The Warriors scored four runs on three hits and three errors in the first inning, which proved to be more than enough for Wahconah pitcher Abby Wells.
Wells lost her shutout bid on an inside-the-park home run by Kelsey Jarvis in the sixth inning. The Wahconah left-hander scattered three hits and struck out eight. At one point, after giving up a leadoff single to Natalie Denkievicz in the first inning, the sophomore pitcher retired 11 consecutive hitters. The Red Hawks (12-9) never caught up.
"We were anxious and ready to play," said Wells. "I knew that we'd be ready. Even from the start, when we first stepped on the field, I just felt the energy was good I knew we were going to have a good game today."
With the win, the Warriors (15-6) advance to Thursday's 3 p.m. semifinal at Sortino Field against Hoosac Valley. The Warriors and the Hurricanes split their two regular-season meetings.
It has been 12 days since Wahconah last played softball. That's a long long time for a team to just practice.
"We've done a lot of work in that time, but it's a lot of time for kids to be sitting around and not playing the game," Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher said. "I give a ton of credit to my seniors. They stayed focused. They've been great leaders all year, and certainly in the last 12 days."
Wahconah started its first inning when Wells walked on four straight pitches. She came around to score on Morgan Marauswzski's sacrifice bunt and a throwing error on Frontier catcher Kelsey Jarvis. Then Warren hit a 2-1 pitch to deep left-center field, making it 3-0. Emma Parkington, who singled, eventually scored when Julia O'Connor reached on an error by Frontier pitcher Olivia Deane.
"I know that I can have a little more fun and I don't have to be so uptight," Wells said, when asked about getting the early lead. "I know that my defense is going to relax behind me, and they're going to make solid plays behind me."
By the time the third inning was over, Wahconah had nine runs on seven hits, and the usually sure-handed Red Hawks had made five errors.
That's not something a team wants to do, and it is especially problematic when the team is as good as Wahconah is.
"Those first couple of innings, we were hurting. Some of the girls were playing in the tournament for the first time, and were showing some nerves," Frontier coach Gary Deane said. "Give it to Wahconah. Their pitcher was right on top of us, and their defense did a great job."
Warren's second home run came with two outs in the home sixth. She hit the first pitch she saw from reliever Lauren McDaniel to deep center field. Frontier shortstop Kimmie Asseng caught the relay throw and her throw to the plate was just late, as Warren slid under the tag of Jarvis.
"I'll be honest. I don't look at the ball when it's hit. I just look for Coach and see where he's telling me to go," said Warren. "I trusted him to send me home. When I saw it was close, you just have make the [best] effort you can."
Warren ended up going 2 for 4 with two runs scored and four runs batted in. Jess Duma was 3 for 3 with two RBI, while Parkington was 2 for 5.
Wahconah has its collective eyes on a first Western Massachusetts Division II championship since 2013. Standing in their way, however, is a tough Hoosac Valley after the second-seeded Hurricanes held off No. 7 Southwick 6-5.
"They're a great team. Coach [Mike] Ameen does a phenomenal job," Belcher said. "I expect it to be a great ball game. We're going to have to play really well, but we'll spend the next couple of days getting ready for them."
Frontier 000 001 0 — 1 3 5
Wahconah 414 001 x — 10 9 1
Olivia Deane (2 2/3), Lauren McDonald (3 1/3) and Kelsey Jarvis. Abby Wells and Jess Warren. W — Wells. L — Deane. 2B — W (Emma Parkington). HR — F (Jarvis). W (Warren 2).
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, on Twitter @howardherman, or 413-496-6253.
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