The recorder – Div. 5 softball: West Boylston blanks Turners in state semifinals (PHOTOS)

WESTFIELD – Running the small stuff wins big once you’re deep into the playoffs.

Most years it is the MO of the Turners Falls softball team. Third-seeded West Boylston pulled a page from the Thunder’s historically successful playbook on Tuesday.

The Lions were aggressive on the bases and stayed defensive while sneaking into trouble for much of the MIAA Division 5 Semifinals. The No. 2 Turners left 10 runners on base as a hit always went just out of reach.

West Boylston pitcher Peyton Maloney didn’t allow a run through seven innings, striking out eight and scattering eight hits to send the Lions into the division. 5 league game via a 2-0 win over Turners at Westfield State University’s Hagan Field.

Turners finished their season 15-10 overall.

“We’ve had a roller coaster ride this year,” Turners head coach Gary Mullins said. “But we started playing softball better in practice and in games. They got better.

West Boylston have advanced to the state final where they will face the winner of Wednesday’s semi-final between No. 1 Greenfield and No. 21 Frontier. The title game is scheduled for Friday or Saturday at UMass’ Sortino field in Amherst.

“We knew what we had to do, we knew who we were up against,” West Boylston coach John Pajer began. “That’s how we play. We don’t make a lot of mistakes defensively, we get good throws. We knew their pitcher (Madi Liimatainen), knew they weren’t going to give us too many, too many So we had to take advantage of our opportunities.

The Lions took the opportunity to take the lead in the top of the third inning. Shannon Luksha walked out of frame and moved to third base on a sacrificial bunt from Maddie Petro. Advancing two goals on the play eventually led to a run as a wild throw from Liimatainen sent Luksha home for a 1-0 advantage.

“We spent two days working on it and we were a little slow and she got there,” Mullins said of the piece. “And then we threw him overboard.”

Pajer said the stars were aligned with Luksha being the perfect base runner to go from first to third on the bunt.

“We were just very lucky on the bases. I think we were a bit more aggressive on the bases than them,” he said. “We had the right person first to try and get it right and it worked for us. You try to take advantage of it when you can.

The lead doubled to 2-0 in the top of the fifth, when Petro hit a one-out wide right center field triple, then ran home on another wild Liimatainen pitch.

From there, Maloney did his best to stop the Turners bats from coming to life. Top-of-the-line Thunder put pressure on the West Boylston defense throughout, and the No. 2 seeds threatened in the home fifth when Emily Young scored a single and took the second when Liimatainen worked a march with a withdrawal. Maloney got a pair of fly outs to keep the game 2-0.

In the sixth, Turners paired on base when Skylei LaPan singled two out and Jenna Petrowicz was hit by a pitch. Maloney landed a punch to escape once more, although the Thunder were able to turn the composition around and take the top command in the seventh.

“It was absolutely massive for us,” Mullins explained. “If we can get a few kids up (sixth grade) and get Emily and Madi (seventh grade), Madi can get him out of here. And we got there. Hey, we have a chance.

Young, who was 3 for 4 at the top of the lineup, started the seventh with a double to bring the tying run home. Liimatainen, who nearly hit an tying home run earlier in the game when his left-field bomb went over the fence but was only feet wide of the foul post, however, was unable to drive in his receiver. Maloney tied in and had a huge strikeout.

Young went third on the center volley, but Maloney induced a pitch to second base to end the threat and send the Lions into the state title game.

“This game can be cruel and that’s exactly what happened to us,” Mullins said. “Madi threw the ball well enough to win and we had enough hits to win, we just couldn’t put them together at the right time.”

Turners edged the Lions by an 8-4 margin, but the 10 runners stuck on base kept the Thunder from breaking through.

Liimatainen struck out nine and walked four while allowing only four hits in a solid performance in the circle.

“I thought she was throwing pretty well. We had big withdrawals,” Mullins said. “But you don’t win softball games without scoring runs. Even Einstein knew it. We didn’t get that big hit. If we had, it would have been a different story.

REMARKS: Pajer said playing 10-time state champion Turners might be a daunting task, but his team didn’t shy away from the challenge. “I think it bothered us as coaches, but it didn’t bother the kids on this team,” he said. “They were zoned out. They know who they are playing against, don’t get me wrong. But that doesn’t seem to bother them. They seem to play and stay in the moment. … Mullins said he hoped Turners could defend his state title after beating Amesbury in the final a year ago. “I wanted to play on the last day of the season but we’re not going to,” he said. … The national finals will take place over two days. Two of the five divisions will meet at UMass on Friday (3 p.m. & 5:30 p.m.) while three others will face off on Saturday (11 a.m., 1:30 p.m., 4 p.m.).

About Maria Hunter

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