TAUNTON, Mass. -– Whenever a game-changing situation occurred during Tuesday’s Eastern Mass softball final, Abington right fielder Jill Marella was involved. A two-run single, a sac-fly, a fielder’s choice to score the game-winning run, a miracle catch in the field, she pretty much did it all.
Marella’s performance was a microchasm of the Green Wave’s unprecedented postseason run. After taking a 5-4 win over North sectional champion Dracut at Taunton High’s Jack Tripp Field, Abington will stare down history again with its first-ever trip to a softball championship game on Saturday.
“This is the way you want to go out senior year,” Marella said.
The Green Wave’s mettle was tested in several critical points of Tuesday’s game, and while it wasn’t always pretty, Abington (23-2) has continued to find ways to win ball games.
Dracut (23-2) erased two Green Wave leads in the early going, tying the game 1-1 through the first and 3-3 through three. Abington claimed its third lead of the game in the fourth on Marella’s sacrifice fly, scoring Victoria Chiocchio (2-for-2, two runs scored). The Middies again countered; Kaylee Kacavas’ sac-fly plated Samantha Durand in the fifth.
Although Abington regained the lead in the sixth, with Alicia Reid scoring on Marella’s bases-loaded fielder’s choice, there would be no clear sailing for the Green Wave.
Dracut had a runner in scoring position in both the home half of the sixth and seventh against Abington ace Kelly Norton. Those runners wouldn’t advance past second as the Green Wave defense held to retire the side in both innings without any further damage.
JACK OF ALL TRADES
Beside her work at the plate, Marella was instrumental to stopping a potential Middies rally in the fourth.
With the bases loaded and two out, Dracut lead-off hitter Amanda Vallante pulled a Norton offering to deep right. Although Marella initially broke in on the ball, she recovered in time to get back and snag the liner for the final out of the frame.
“I wasn’t used to the lights and I lost it for a little bit,” Marella said of her fully extended shoestring catch. “And I just kind of made a leap of faith, I grabbed it. I got lucky.”
It’s just another way Marella has delivered this postseason.
“She’s come up big every time we’ve asked her to,” Abington head coach Ernie Ortega said. “She gets the bunt down, or she gets a big hit. They play her to bunt all the time, but they don’t realize she does both, and she came up with the big hit.”
Norton, who is frequently dominant, found herself scrapping for three strikeouts against the Middies lineup. But she was at her best with her back against the wall in the final frames.
Abington assistant coach Marty French made several key trips to the circle to calm Norton’s nerves in those tense situations.
The experienced coach and pitching expert always seems to know exactly what to say. And how to make light of the situation.
“They’re light-hearted conversations, he likes to keep things upbeat,” Norton said. “In my head, I was freaking out, I was so nervous, but he just told me to relax.”
Norton induced a ground-ball out to end the sixth-inning rally and a couple of fly balls to end threats in the fifth and sixth.
Whatever French had to offer must’ve been pretty funny.
Abington’s chance at ultimate history comes Saturday at Worcester State College (4 p.m.) when the Green Wave will face Central sectional champion Grafton, which claimed a 3-2 win over Hampshire in the other state semifinal game on Tuesday.
Ortega feels his team will enter battle-tested.
“We’ve face some really, really tough teams coming out of the South. It’s just amazing the talent that has come out of there and to be able to be where we are now, I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet.”
“Coming this far, we have to win,” Norton added. “We have to win.”