WORCESTER, Mass. -- With ace hurlers Shannon Smith and Kiara Amos looking they were ready to pitch deep into the night, the quest became about looking up and down the bench and trying to figure out who would finally produce the big hit at the right moment.
Milford's Taylor LeBrun dug in for her turn in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and a runner at second and the freshman delivered, lining a single up the middle that scored Caroline Fairbanks with the game's lone run as the Scarlet Hawks capped off a perfect season by capturing the school's first Div. 1 state championship with a 1-0 victory over Malden.
"All year we've been extra motivated, the whole year we wanted to leave a mark," Smith said. "We wanted to be the first softball state champions in Milford High School history, we wanted to win the league, we wanted to win the Central title, we wanted to win all these things to finish our run in the Mid-Wach A League before we move onto a new league next year. We just wanted to really make an impact this year and we definitely did."
University of Kentucky commit Smith was dominant through nine innings, allowing just one hit and a hit batter while fanning 22. Amos, who will play for Providence College, scattered seven hits while striking out 10 and pitching her way out of trouble several times.
Fairbanks led off the Scarlet Hawks (25-0) half of the ninth with a single, then advanced to second with two outs behind her. Up stepped LeBrun, who promptly ripped a single straight through the middle of the infield and into center. Fairbanks hustled all the way around and slid across the plate just ahead of a good throw from center for the winning run.
"My hat's off to that team, they're a great team but tonight we found a way to scrap and get one," exclaimed Milford coach Brian Macchi. "And that's what we needed to win this game was to get one. Taylor LeBrun getting it done, only a freshman but playing beyond her years, getting a big hit there. She got the big hit earlier in the year when we played King Philip too so this girl has come up with some big hits for us this year and hopefully its bigger and better things to come from her as she gets older."
Milford had runners in scoring position in three different innings, but none posed a bigger threat to Amos than the fourth. Three straight singles by Samantha Bonvino, Smith and Fairbanks loaded the bases with no outs. A failed squeeze attempt led to Bonvino being cut down at home, then Amos bore down and struck out the final two hitters to escape the jam.
"That was a big out. We had a couple of balls mishandled and they ended up loading the bases," Malden coach John Furlong admitted. "I wasn't sure if he was going to try a squeeze with bases loaded because of the force but once they did, we had the play and everyone rotated like they were supposed to. Then Kiara again stepped up and punched out two big hitters like she had to, just like she did the last couple of nights when she had to. I expect that out of her. You get nervous but not too nervous because she's in such total control of the game. She's phenomenal. There will never be anybody like her come through our city, probably even our league, probably ever again."
Meanwhile, Smith was proving to be untouchable. The junior was named the Gatorade Player of the Year two weeks ago and she showed why on the biggest stage. Smith struck out the first three hitters she faced and set down the side on strikes five of her nine innings. She also fanned ten straight from the fifth inning through the eighth and set down the final 16 batters she faced.
Amos managed the lone hit for the Golden Tornadoes (24-2), reaching with a second-inning single. She took second on a sacrifice bunt by Jessalynne Brown but Smith blew away the next two hitters to strand her. Amos reached again with two outs in the fourth when she was hit by a Smith fastball, but the junior left her there once again with another big strikeout.
"It was tough. They had some good swings and they have some good sticks," Smith praised. "They adjusted, they tried to hit my curveball by pushing their hands out so I adjusted too. So it was just a game of back and forth adjustments, battling the whole time. They battled, I battled, so that's pretty much what it was."
Added Macchi about Smith, "She wanted this. She's wanted this from the last out last year when we lost in the state semifinal game. She's wanted this from when we lost in the state final game two years ago. She puts the work in and she deserves this and she definitely is prepared for any situation she's in. She definitely did an unbelievable job for us tonight and she's a huge reason why we were able to win this game tonight."
A GREAT RIDE FOR THE TORNADOES
Just getting to this point had been a wild and crazy adventure for Malden. Saturday marked the team's third straight extra innings affair and the Tornadoes can take solace in the fact that they put together the greatest season in school history.
Along the way, the city noticed and jumped on board with support at a level that made Furlong harken back to his younger days.
"People in Malden were asking today what it was going to be like," Furlong said. "I said it's going to be a 1-0 or 2-1 game because both pitchers are so dominant. Shannon made some unbelievable pitches when she needed to and Kiara did the same when she needed to. We had some situations where they had runners in scoring position and she made some big pitches. We just didn't get the bat on the ball tonight. She didn't make any mistakes where she threw the ball down the middle or anything. Everything was on the outside or inside. That's why she's going to Kentucky and that's why Kiara is going to Providence. If you didn't come tonight, you missed a good game."
"It's been a wild trip," he added. "The city of Malden has been outrageous with banners...it's made me so proud because I grew up in Malden and it's like when I was a kid. Everyone was out beeping horns and posters and stuff like that. It was good for the girls and great for the city."