AMHERST >> The Hoosac Valley softball team relied all season on its strong pitching and a base-to-base offense to carry it to the Western Massachusetts Division III semifinal. But with their season on the line, the Hurricanes' small-ball approach went out the window.
Trailing by one in the top of the seventh, the fourth-seeded Hurricanes sent 10 batters to the plate, scoring five runs, leading to a 5-1 comeback victory over previously unbeaten and top-seeded Monson on Thursday at UMass-Amherst.
Hoosac moves on to the Western Mass. D-III final on Saturday at UMass-Amherst at noon, where the Hurricanes will meet No. 2 Turners Falls.
Against Monson, Haley Adelt led off the seventh with a walk for Hoosac (14-7). Gabi Vincent's bunt attempt led to an error, putting runners on the corners. Alyssa Pause was hit by a pitch, loading the bases.
Kali Puppolo's single tied the game at 1-1. Siena Witherall tried to drop down a bunt, but Monson made an out at the plate, saving a run. From then on, Hoosac's batters had the green light to swing away.
Abby Jamros' sacrifice fly into left field plated the winning run. An illegal pitch led to another run and Kelsey Wohrle followed with an RBI single. Logan Stanfield singled and an error on Monson plated the final run of the game.
"I said we're going for it," Hoosac coach Mike Ameen said of the team's approach after the failed bunt attempt. "The whole year Abby's been putting the ball in play, hitting long fly balls. I'm thinking a sac fly, anything, just hit the ball and she came through."
The Hurricanes' offensive success in the seventh was a complete 180-degree turn from their production leading up to the inning. The 'Canes were 0 for 11 with runners in scoring position, stranding seven runners on base. Despite the lack of success early, they remained confident in their ability to produce in the clutch.
"As a team we had to comeback," Jamros said. "It's not just an individual run or hit that gets you there. It's the one [hit] to start it and then the team continues to comeback and work together. Work through the nerves, work through the hits and score when you need [to]."
Puppolo's offense started the scoring, but her strong performance in the circle made the comeback possible. She allowed four hits, struck out 10 and did not allow an earned run.
"They have some good hitters, but I think I kept them off balance," she said.
Monson's lone run came in the second inning. Shannon Jalbert reached on a dropped third strike, setting up Samantha Laitinen's RBI single.
Puppolo said she needed a short memory when pitching through the defensive mistakes and continued to let her defense make plays.
While Puppolo kept a short memory in the circle, memories of the team's inability to produce with runners on base in last year's 2-1 Western Mass. semifinal loss to the Mustangs remained fresh in Ameen's mind. This year's game seemed to be heading to another one-run decision, but once the 'Canes started making solid contact off Mustangs' starter Carly Zielinski, the hits came in bunches.
"When the first runs came through it was like the floodgates opened," he said.
Hoosac lost in the quarterfinals in 2014 under coach Morgan Shafer, but now under Ameen, the team's progressed further into the tournament each of the last two years since he's returned to Hoosac Valley after serving as the head softball coach at MCLA. He said even as a Drury graduate, he's enjoying the team's recent run of success.
"This is the first team in over 20 to go to back-to-back semis," he said. "Now we're advancing to the finals for the first time in a while. It's great to comeback and it's all about them. It's great to play on a Division-I field and enjoy in the excitement."
Kali Puppolo and Alyssa Pause. Carly Zielinski and Emily Garon. W — Puppolo. L — Zielinski. 2B — M (Allison Zollo). 3B — HV 1 (Pause).
Contact Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252