WORCESTER, Mass. -- What would a state championship be without Turners Falls involved?
After a year's absence, the Indians are heading back to the Division 3 state finals. With six titles already to its credit, Turners Falls (23-2) will be seeking No. 7 when they match up against Greater New Bedford Voke (19-9) in the final Saturday here beginning at 1 p.m. The Indians are currently tied with Apponequet Regional for second most state softball titles. Only Bishop Fenwick, with eight, have more.
"This key to our success has been that all us get along and we all support each other," said junior Amber Caouette, who, along with teammate Jenna Putala, belted consecutive home runs in the fifth inning. "That was something we really didn't have last year and we lost (in the WMass final). There was really no connection within the team. But we have grown from it and moved on to this year. Now we are winning again so it's all good."
The Indians, who carry just two seniors, got to this point after rocking Assabet Valley, 5-1, on Wednesday. Turners Falls did what they do best – jump on the opposition early and not let them up for air. Against the Aztecs (21-5), the Indians claimed a 2-0 lead after the first inning on a two-run single by sophomore Mackenzie Phillips.
"Getting those runs early was huge," said legendary Indians coach Gary Mullins, now in his 35th season here. "It takes a little pressure off and calm most of us down. Assabet is a nice club. They hit the ball hard. I thought the top of their order is very tough. Going back to the state finals never gets old for us. For the most part it's a new group of girls who will get that experience."
Mullin's club knocked off Assabet in the 2012 state semifinal en route to the second of back-to-back state championships. Last year, the Aztecs defeated Mt. Everett in the semi round before winning it all.
Phillips, also the Indians' pitcher, didn't have her best stuff inside the circle but had enough to keep Assabet off-track. Phillips, who hurled a perfect game in her team's WMass final against Pathfinder on Saturday, scattered eight hits and picked up six strikeouts.
"If you said we would get eight hits before we played I would have told you that we won the game," Aztec head coach Mike O'Brien said.
Turners Falls picked up a solo run in the third. After loading the bases, Aztec pitcher Maddy Parmeter was called for an illegal pitch with two out, thus allowing Putala, who reached on an error, to trot in from third base.
While Phillips continued to frustrate the defending state champion Aztecs, her offense continued to provide her added run support. Any chance for Assabet to get back into this one proved futile after Putala and Caouette went yard to push the Indians' advantage to five runs.
"They hit two bombs over the fence which is something I have not seen since I've been coaching," O'Brien lamented. "That team has a lot of talent and their pitcher throws strikes and I wish them well in the final. Unfortunately we didn't come up with those clutch hits to keep us in the game. I wish we had the money swing today but all we had was loose change."