MILFORD, Mass. – The gloves flying through the air and the mass celebration at home plate after the final out was made, confirmed what everyone outside the foul lines already knew – this was more than just a standard regular season Hockomock League game.
“That probably, in my career, is the team’s best regular season win. Did that ooze tournament atmosphere or what?” asked an excited North Attleborough head coach Bill Wallace after the final pitch.
North Attleborough (7-2) pushed home one run in the top of the 10th inning, only the second run allowed by Milford (10-1) in 11 games this season, and the Rocketeers threw out runners at the plate twice in extra innings to pull off a 1-0 upset over the defending Division 1 state champions. The Rocketeers’ victory ended the Scarlet Hawks win streak at 35 games going back to 2011.
“It was just a great game,” said Wallace. “That kid [Shannon Smith] is a darn good pitcher over there, but luckily I have a darn good pitcher over here too.”
With the game scoreless heading into extra innings, the International Tiebreak Rule was used, which begins the inning with a runner on second. It was the first time that either team had managed to get a runner past first base.
In the top of the tenth, Colleran dropped down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Marissa Gifford to third. Senior catcher Meghan Wynn then smacked a grounder on a 1-2 pitch that third baseman Caroline Fairbanks knocked down with a diving stop, but Fairbanks was not able to get the throw home in time to prevent Gifford, who was running on contact, from scoring.
“I knew that in order to pull out the win that I had to be smart and make contact,” said Wynn about the last at-bat with the go-ahead run just 60 feet from home. “I know that she’s going to pitch smart and not give me anything to hit. I just have to watch the ball all the way to the bat.”
Milford had the heart of the order coming up in the bottom of the tenth and Smith, Milford’s University of Kentucky-bound senior, drew a walk to put the winning run on base with no outs. Fairbanks followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved both runners into scoring position. On the next pitch, Rachel Levine hit a hard grounder off Colleran’s glove to shortstop Jill Costello, who bobbled the ball but was still able to throw out Sam Bonvino at the plate.
Colleran, who seemed especially fired up for this game, then struck out Taylor LeBrun to close out the victory and set off the celebrations at home plate.
“It feels great; I’m so excited right now,” said Colleran, who struck out eight while allowing only two hits. “They’re a really great team, so I just knew that I had to move the ball around and fool them because I know that every kid on that team can put it over the fence.”
The game had a playoff atmosphere from the first pitch and the Hawks starter was her usual dominant self. Smith, who recorded her 1,000th career strikeout last week, started the game by striking out two batters in three of the first four innings. She finished with 17 for the game and allowed only one hit in the defeat.
After 35 consecutive wins, Milford head coach Brian Macchi was philosophical about the team’s first loss since the 2011 state semifinal against Amherst and its first loss as a Hockomock League team.
“It was two great teams going at it and in my opinion the two best pitchers and it showed. Shannon pitched great, Meg pitched great and it was fun to be a part of,” Macchi said.
He continued, “It’s been a while since we’ve lost a game and come back to work the next day. For me as a coach, you lose to a caliber team like North, we can learn from this and come back tomorrow and go to work. It’s definitely a learning experience for us and we’ll turn this into a positive.”
While Colleran was excellent in the circle, North also made several plays to get out of potential scoring situations. After a single by Smith in the first inning, North first baseman Jackie Del Bonis snared a line drive by Fairbanks to end the inning. In the bottom of the sixth Costello picked a hard grounder by Bonvino to prevent the heart of the order from coming up. In the bottom of the eighth, second baseman Gifford made a perfect throw home to prevent the winning run from scoring.
Following North’s shocking loss to Attleboro last Thursday, Wallace was thrilled to see his team bounce back with a total team effort and to pull the biggest upset of the softball season.
“Wins and losses in April aren’t as important as wins and losses in June, but from a team standpoint, I think now they believe, you know what, we’re with the Milfords and the [King Philips],” said Wallace.
“We were all really bummed out,” said Colleran about the team’s attitude after the loss to the Bombardiers. “I think this is huge, especially a game when we think we are underdogs. It could kick start us and boost us through the rest of the season.”
Macchi was thrilled about the playoff atmosphere surrounding the game and noted that Division 1 South is going to be a stacked sectional from top to bottom. He is hoping that this loss will add motivation for the Hawks to keep improving.
“Today was a great test and something that we can build on,” Macchi explained. “I am looking forward to practice tomorrow with these girls and seeing how hungry they are.”