Friday July 13, 2012

Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige probably said it best.

"My basic philosophy of pitching is simple: To keep the ball away from the bat," he once noted.

Pittsfield High School junior Sarah Rayner and Mount Everett High School sophomore Alicia Bazonski were the acknowledged experts in keeping the ball away from the bat this past spring. Both were overpowering, mentally tough and skilled. Both led their respective teams to championships in the county's Northern and Southern Divisions.

With little to differentiate the two athletes, they have been named co-MVPs of the 2012 softball season.

First, the numbers: Rayner was 17-5 overall with a 1.50 ERA. She struck out 161 batters in 134 innings.

Pittsfield’s Rob McLam throws to first to complete a 5-4-3 double play to end the third inning Thursday night at Wahconah Park.
Pittsfield’s Rob McLam throws to first to complete a 5-4-3 double play to end the third inning Thursday night at Wahconah Park. (Caroline Bonnivier Snyder )
Rayner threw a no-hitter in May against Mohawk. She issued 56 walks as Pittsfield won the Northern Division.

Bazonski was 14-4 in the regular season, with 248 strikeouts. At the plate, she hit .360, with three home runs and eight extra base hits.

Both came into their own as they matured as pitchers.

"Sarah started to become more of a pitcher this year," said PHS coach Greg Marchbanks. "I taught her the intricacies of pitching: Moving the ball around, changing speeds, pitching to spots.

"She listens very well," he concluded. "She's a very coachable kid."

Mount Everett coach Kurt DeGrenier also saw improvement in Bazonski's technique this year.

"Definitely," he said in an interview a few weeks ago. "She's really hitting her spots much better, she locates her pitches much better. She's a better pitcher than she was last spring, by far."

In head-to-head competition this year, the two teams met once, early in the season, with the Generals coming out on top, winning a come-from-behind thriller, 6-4. Both pitchers pitched well, but the Generals had a better hitting day to carry the day.

The two athletes both compete in the Berkshire County League, but when it comes to the postseason, their paths branch out.

Rayner and her PHS teammates move up to the Division I tournament, while Bazonski and her fellow Eagles play in the Division III tournament.

For Marchbanks, it is what it is, league-wise. But he spends a considerable amount of time trying to schedule Division I non-conference foes. In the county league, only Taconic is also Division I.

"To be honest, it hurts us in the post-season, because of the [Walker] rating system," he said, pointing out that all but two of his teams' games are against Division II or Division III teams.

And conversely, the Eagles benefit from playing teams in Division I and II. But, as the saying goes, they still had to play the games.

In Bazonski's freshman year, the Eagles were knocked out of the Western Mass. Division III tournament, 1-0, by eventual state champ Turners Falls. This year, they fell to Granby, 1-0, in eight innings.

Pittsfield and Rayner are 2-2 in the postseason. The Generals have gotten past the first round twice, and lost in the Western Mass. quarterfinals.

Both DeGrenier and Marchbanks see room for improvement in their charges. Both coaches believe the two pitchers should work on stamina and strength in the off-season. One thing is for sure: They'll both be around next year, making sure the ball avoids their opponents' bats.