D2 EMass: Bellingham 3, Tewksbury 2

TAUNTON, Mass. – Gutsy.

That would be the applicable adjective to use when describing the performance of Bellingham’s Megan Cook on Wednesday night as the Blackhawks rallied for a 3-2 victory over Tewksbury in a Division 2 State semifinal softball game. Cook, who stepped on the field with an 18-1 record plus a 0.47 ERA, allowed two runs on six hits and one walk in addition to hitting two batters.

“She didn’t have her best game she’ll tell you she didn’t,” Bellingham coach Dennis Baker said. “But it was just good enough. She was gutsy. She never quits. They hit her hard in the first and second innings. But that doesn’t make a pitcher. How are you going to respond to that?

“She never lost her confidence. She bounced back and threw the last few innings like she’s capable of doing. But even if she doesn’t have her good stuff, she’s going to keep us in the game. From the beginning of the season we preach defense, pitching and timely hitting. That’s what we work on all the time.”

Tough in the clutch: The way Cook pitched the last five innings was indicative of how she reached down for something extra after the North champion Redmen (18-6) grabbed a 2-0 lead after two innings. Cook retired 16 of the last 19 batters she faced and didn’t allow a runner to advance past first base during the last five innings.

“I just had to buckle down,” Cook said. “We were down 2-0 and I needed a little ‘Get the job done.’

“We got two runs and then we got that third one and then it was time to put it away.”

As a result, the South champion Blackhawks (24-1 – the 24 victories are a school record) will make their first-ever trip to the state finals on Saturday at Worcester State against undefeated Grafton (24-0).

Positive attitude: Despite the fact Tewksbury had the early lead and Bellingham stranded four runners over the first two innings, the Blackhawks maintained their poise instead of wilting.

“The tone was definitely all for our teammates succeeding,” said Rachel Kuhlman, whose fifth-inning single snapped a 2-2 tie and plated what proved to be the winning run. “It was really positive. It was like ‘Find a way … find a way to get a run.’

“Everyone was cheering for each other.”

The fact Cook and Kuhlman have been battery mates for four years also factored in Bellingham’s victory.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have had those two for four years,” Baker said. “They coach themselves. They go over strategy with each other. They’re almost attached at the hip.

“I know Rachael’s going to call a good game.”

Tewksbury scored both of its runs in the second. Teagan Trant doubled with one out and sped to third on Anna Sessa’s bloop single with Sessa taking second on the throw to third. Kayla VonKahle followed by lining a two-run single just inside first base.

After Kirsten Dick forced VonKahle at second and Brooke Hardy was hit by a pitch, Dick tried to score from second on Marissa Doherty’s single to center. But Julianne Kilduff fired a strike to Kuhlman who tagged Dick for what, in retrospect, proved to be a key out.

Bellingham finally got to Shannon McLaughlin for a pair of runs in the fourth. Cook and Chloe Woodward led with singles and advanced when Kayse Baker grounded out to first.

Cook scored when pinch-hitter Julia Caddell beat out an infield hit and Woodward raced home on a wild pitch.

Then, in the fifth, Meghan Cook (no relation to the pitcher) drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on Taylor MacGowan’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Kuhlman’s single.

“We needed Cook to do what she did to get one more game,” Baker said. “We’re playing a 20-0 team in Grafton that’s won the state championship two years in a row. But it’s going to be a great game.

“I’m very proud of these girls. They play hard and they don’t quit.”