Amherst softball advances to D1 title game

AMHERST, Mass. -- Thursday’s Division 1 state softball semifinal all came down to speed for Amherst.

There was the speed on the base paths, personified in lightning fast lead-off hitter Quianna Diaz-Patterson. There was also the speed thrown at the Hurricanes by the opposing pitcher, sophomore flame-thrower Shannon Smith. It was also found in the Amherst hurler Emma Mendoker’s ability to get ahead quickly in the count against the Scarlet Hawks' hitters, leaving them in a hole in their at-bats.

Those three qualities helped the Hurricanes take a 3-0 victory over Milford in a de facto home game for Amherst played on the campus of UMass.

The Hurricanes (23-1) advance to face Eastern Mass. and defending D1 champion King Philip in the state title game Saturday at Worcester State.

“We had to go in knowing that we had to speed up the game,” Diaz-Patterson said.

Amherst used the lessons learned from last year’s upset at the hands of Milford. The Scarlet Hawks outlasted the Hurricanes in eight innings to take a 1-0 win and advance to the state final against King Philip.

This time around, Amherst turned the table and it was the Hurricanes’ ace, Mendoker prevailing with the shutout. The newly minted ESPN RISE Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year lived up to her billing, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning against Milford (22-2). Mendoker finished with 12 strikeouts and needed just 86 pitches for the complete game.

Although the Scarlet Hawks didn’t scratch out a hit until there was two outs in the sixth, with lead-off hitter Rachel Levine taking a bloop single to left, Mendoker hardly noticed what was going on.

“I thought, ‘Was there a ball in the infield or the outfield?’” Mendoker said.

She added: “It was awesome. I just played my heart out and so did the girls and I’m really proud of our team.”

The Hurricanes got all the offense Mendoker would require in a three-run third inning.

Amherst showed patience at the plate while working Smith for three walks during the inning, including a lead-off walk by Diaz-Patterson (3 stolen bases). Simone Frank followed with a single and Zoe Dillon-Davidson followed to load up the bases. Mendoker plated the game’s first run with a bases loaded walk. Then, Hurricanes left fielder Brittany Deres provided the game-breaking punch with a two-run single.

“It’s tough to generate offense against a pitcher like [Mendoker],” Milford head coach Brian Macchi said. “You’re just hoping to keep it a one-run game instead of a three-run game because then it really becomes an uphill battle to find a way to get those three runs.”

The Scarlet Hawks threatened in the sixth with two runners on and two out. However, Mendoker got the best of her counterpart, Smith to foul out to end the inning.

After allowing another hit in the seventh, the East Carolina commit slammed the door shut with two strikeouts to end the game.