WEST BRIDGEWATER, Mass. -- Avon softball head coach Karen McCarthy's first big matchup this season did not take place anywhere near a diamond.
It was not the Panthers' four Division 1 playoff opponents this season, or the nine Mayflower (Small) squads looking to steal her crown, but the May school production of the "Wizard of Oz." In a school that enrolls only 351 students, recruiting a complete program can be a yearly competition.
Take away any underclassmen squads this season and what 12-year skipper accomplished in a 10-2 defeat of host West Bridgewater (17-3) on Friday becomes even more impressive.
“We were running around the same time [as the production] so we lost a couple kids to that,” said McCarthy of the play. “I have had the same girls since seventh grade. It is the commitment and routine these girls have that has brought us here.”
Led by six strikeouts from ace Maggie Hoffman, the Panthers (18-4) had previously clinched their fourth straight Mayflower (Small) title, but added a second consecutive undefeated conference season on Friday.
Battling with a squad comprised of only one senior and four juniors, last years' Division 3 South runner-ups knocked around the Wildcats, including eight hits in a six run fifth inning.
Freshman Brittany McDonald was 2-for-4 with five RBI, while teammate junior Christine Crane ripped off a four-hit game with a run and an RBI.
“We hit about 50 tennis balls off the 'T's', bunt off a pitching machine, then we do live pitching with coach,” said McDonald.
“Six days a week and two hours a day in practice,” added McCarthy. “These girls make a very serious commitment both during and outside of
Things had not always been as smooth for McCarthy who spent her first eight years without topping the conference. Solid starters like Hoffman or consistent slugging were not always a guarantee in what was a growing program.
“I been able to stick it through and watch this small town build its softball team,” McCarthy said. “I do not get a big head, because I have been there losing every game and looking for a pitcher to use everyday. The big difference for this team has a lot to do with the self esteem and confidence.”
A confident three-run crack over the fence by McDonald proved the difference for Avon on Friday as it entered the fourth trailing 2-0 to West Bridgewater. The Panthers continued rolling in the sixth with a short outfield blooper by McDonald for a run and a two-run hit by McDonald.
A low roller by sophomore Casey Jordan brought the score to 7-2, while a pitch into the backstop and a fielder's choice ground ball added a pair to finish the side.
Crane made the finishing touch with a bouncing outfield RBI in the seventh for a 10-2 lead.
“We had a couple of bad innings in the field and they got away from us,” West Bridgewater head coach Krissy Gerrior said. “A couple fly balls flip here and there and it is a different game.”
West Bridgewater, which scored both runs in the third, were lead by starter Mackenzie Clarke who tossed five strikeouts and brought in an RBI.
Avon has lost to Case during the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, but will look to avenge that as they begin their quest for their their first Division 3 South title in a week.
“I really saw what I had today playing against (rival) West Bridgewater,” McCarthy said. “We played higher division programs this season to be ready for the competition of the postseason. It comes down to finishing in the end.”