Moultonborough Academy third baseman Alexa Price fires to first for an out against Nute in the opening round of the Division IV softball tournament. The Panthers won 9-6.
Joe Souza. (click for larger version)
June 05, 2017MOULTONBOROUGH — Heading into the Division IV softball season, little was expected from Moultonborough Academy after the Panthers watched four talented seniors graduate the year before.
But here are the Panthers, back in the Final Four, where they will be looking to open some more eyes.
The fifth-seeded Panthers overcame some six miscues in the field with solid pitching from Jill Tatro and timely hitting to turn back No. 12 Nute 9-6 in the opening round of the Division IV tournament. MA followed that up with a solid all-around performance in turning back No. 4 Epping, 6-4, in the quarterfinal round.
"I'm very proud of this team," MA head coach Tom Dawson said after his club moved to 15-3 with the two wins.
"I'm proud of this team," added Dawson. "Everybody wrote this team off because we lost four seniors up the middle – our catcher, pitcher, shortstop, and center fielder – led by pitcher Maddy Greene. But I'm not surprised we're here at all. This team has a lot of gamers on it. They are champions. We have members of the volleyball championship team and members of the Nordic ski championship team. They know how to win.
"We may have snuck up on everyone else, but I'm not surprised."
At times, the Panthers did not look prepared for the tournament pressure in the playoff opener against Nute. MA made six errors in the contest, but they stuck with it and kept the pressure on the Rams.
The Rams took advantage of a walk, a single and an error to open the scoring in the first on a sacrifice fly by Kayla Clough.
MA responded immediately, getting a solo home run in the home half of the first from Allison Taylor to tie the game at 1-1.
The Panthers plated three more in the second to take control of the game. Nute pitcher Penelope Ayotte hit the first two batters of the frame, Madison Perrotti and Meg Weeks. Following a strikeout, Madison Richardson worked a walk to load the bases. After the second out was recorded at the plate, Alexa Price worked a walk to force in a run. Taylor followed with a two-run single down the third base line to make it 4-1.
An error helped Nute cut into the lead in the third. MA though responded with a run in the home half of the frame for a 5-2 edge.
"We discussed that after the game," Dawson pointed out. "It wasn't perfect, but we stuck together and pulled through it together.
"I don't think we need to play the perfect game," added Dawson. "We have to stay together as a unit. If we make an error, we need to build them back up and pull each other together."
The Rams pulled within two again on a solo home run by Devon Hurley in the fourth inning.
As they did all game, the Panthers answered once again. With two outs, Ayotte was careful with Taylor at the plate and walked her. Elizabeth Eaton and Tatro followed with singles to load the bases. Perrotti belted a double to center, playing Taylor and Eaton for a 7-3 lead. Tatro would score moments later for an 8-3 edge.
Hurley singled in a run in the fifth inning and Perrotti knocked in her third run of the day with a single in the sixth, making it 9-4 Panthers heading to the seventh.
Nute made things interesting in the seventh. Emily Flanagan opened the inning with a single and Clough followed with a home run to center, cutting MA's lead to 9-6. Tatro though settled down and retired the next three batters to close out the win.
"We had a decent scouting report on them, and we knew who we had to be careful with," said Dawson. "Jill hung one there and the girl hit it out, but she didn't let it bother her. She bounced right back and got the next three hitters."
Tatro scattered seven hits over the seven innings, allowing six runs (three earned) while striking out three and walking three.
Offensively, Taylor went 2 for 3 with the home run, two runs scored, and three RBI. Perrotti (2 for 2, with a double) also knocked in three runs and score another. Eaton (2-3, 2 runs) and Tatro (2-3, run) also had multiple hits for the Panthers.
In Saturday's D-IV quarterfinal clash at No. 4 Epping, the Panthers did what they needed to do in jumping out to an early lead and holding on for the thrilling 6-4 triumph.
MA grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first when Carlee Morgan reached on a bunt single. Morgan stole second and raced home on Price's double to right field for a 1-0 edge.
The Panthers plated four more in the third for a 5-0 lead. Taylor got things started with a one-out single. Eaton and Tatro singled to load the bases. Perrotti knocked in a run with a single before Weeks ripped a double to right field, knocking in two runs for a 4-0 lead. Perrotti scored on a Lauren Shipp groundout and MA had a 5-0 edge.
Epping climbed back in the game with two runs in the fifth.
MA pushed an insurance run across in the sixth. Morgan walked to start things off and Price reached on a bunt single. Taylor doubled to right field to score Morgan for a 6-2 edge. The Blue Devils would go down swinging in the seventh though, score two runs to pull within two. Tatro got the final out via ground out to Eaton at shortstop with a runner on third.
Price banged out two doubles, going 3 for 4 and knocking in a run, to help power MA's 15-hit attack. Perrotti also finished 3 for 4 with a double, RBI, and a run scored. Also recording at least two hits were Taylor (2-4, double, RBI, run), Eaton (2-4, run), and Weeks (2-4, double, 2 RBI).
Tatro got the win, allowing four runs (three earned) on 13 hits while striking out two and walking one.
"During the pregame I told them to score early and often, and we did," Dawson pointed out. "We got a run in the first and four more in the third.
"Trying to get rid of the nerves, I told them to get rid of the number in front of Epping… Forget about the number four (Epping's seed)," added Dawson. "Forget the number and focus on the things you can control. This team has been able to do that all year."
Now, the Panthers will look to get back to the finals when they face old nemesis Sunapee, the top-seeded and two-time defending champions who advanced with a 9-1 win over No. 8 Portsmouth Christian. The two were scheduled to play in the second semifinal contest after deadline Wednesday at Plymouth State University, starting at approximately 7 p.m. The Lakers beat MA, 6-2, in the 2015 D-IV state championship game.