D1 Central softball: Marlborough 10, Shepherd Hill 3

WORCESTER, Mass. -- Perception tells you that players batting in the No. 9 spot in the order usually have flaws. Either they cannot hit for power or are weak contact hitters. In some cases, passing such judgment is warranted. But for Marlborough's Victoria Falco it's pure fiction.

The sophomore bats ninth for the Panthers and on Saturday night she had a game for the ages. Falco blasted a pair of home runs to straightaway centerfield, collecting five RBI in the process in leading Marlborough to a 10-3 victory over Shepherd Hill in the Division 1 Central Mass. championship at Rockwood Field.

The third-seeded Panthers (17-6) will take on Sunday's Longmeadow/Agawam winner in the semifinals at UMass with a time and day to be determined.

Marlboro banged out 13 hits against the No. 5 Rams (15-8) but none were bigger than Falco's. Grabbing a 1-0 lead in the first on Victori Petrie's RBI single, the Panthers strategy was to score as many runs early in this one against a Shepherd Hill team that can also swing the bats. After the Rams knotted the game in the second on a Megan Gosselin run-scoring double, Marlboro responded in the bottom of the frame. Cassidy Morin opened with a single and, one out later, Falco launched a shot deep over the centerfield wall to make it 3-1.

"I was glad that we were able to get on top first and set the tone," Marlborough coach Kyle Westcott said. "Obviously once Victoria put that first one over the fence it really broke it open for us. We just wanted to keep scoring and make it harder for (Shepherd Hill) to come back."

In the third, the Panthers put this one out of reach, scoring three more times. Jen Bombard singled and Petrie walked. Chaley Webber followed by doubling to right scoring Bombard. Jenni Jackson brought in Petrie with single and Webber followed, crossing the plate on a Brenna Foley wild pitch.

Even with a 6-1 lead, Marlboro was looking for more. In the fifth, the Panthers did just that. With two runners on, Falco notched her second round tripper to put her team in command 9-1.

"I've never hit two home runs in one game before," Falco said. "I saw pitches that I like and just attacked them both. I love playing under pressure so this feels good. This whole team is a group of fighters and we're not going to stop until we get what we want and a state title is what we want."

The Rams, showing a little fight, scored two runs in the sixth on RBIs by Shelby Stracher and Emily Hanson. Webber's single to score Bombard in the bottom of the inning gave the Panthers in double digits on the scoreboard.

"When these girls play well they play well," Shepherd Hill coach Paul Enman said. "We just didn't get their tonight. Marlboro hit the ball well. We put runners on but in two particular innings we hit into a couple of line drive double plays that took us out of innings. I'm not saying that made the difference but had we scored it could've put a little more pressure on them."