Saturday June 15, 2013

MONTAGUE -- It ended, as it almost always does, bitterly.

First, came the familiar sound of bat redirecting ball, followed by the galloping of feet down the line. Those fast feet had been the Wahconah softball team's lifeline at the plate in the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association's Division II semifinal against Grafton. But this time the Indians got to the bag before Erin Grogan did.

"I was pretty successful with it all day, so I was thinking, ‘I just need to get on, maybe start something.' We just needed two runs to come back," Grogan said. "It was rough. To be the last out of the game, it hurts."

Like that, the 21-game win streak -- and bid for a second state title in three years -- was all over in Wahconah's 4-2 loss Friday at Turners Falls High School. The Warriors came up short in a season where it seemed like they'd never lose again. Now, it will be Grafton heading to Worcester State today to defend its title against Burlington.

"It's really, really hard to see it end," said Wahconah coach Dustin Belcher. "They're a special group of kids. I'm really, really proud of what we did accomplish throughout the year. You know, some tough luck today and things didn't go our way."

The Warriors (21-3) had to claw back from the start. The Indians (23-2) jumped on top 2-0 after the first, taking advantage of a throwing error and the first of two RBI hits from Tara Faford. It was the beginning of a 12-hit day for Grafton.

Things weren't much easier for Wahconah at the plate. The Warriors couldn't get solid contact off Grafton pitcher Kendal Roy. Instead, infield singles and bunt hits were their best source of offense. One of those speedy singles from Bizzy King set up Wahconah's biggest hit of the day. With both Gabby Lavinio and King in scoring position in the fourth, freshman Chloe Warren lofted a shot that landed just beyond second base and scored both runners.

"The team needed me, so I did what I could," Warren said. "It wasn't enough today but we had a great season."

The two-run single cut the deficit to 3-2 and Wahconah was right back in it. But Grafton responded, getting at least two runners in each of the next three innings against Warrior pitcher Becca Grunow. Roy's RBI single in the fifth drove in Faford, giving the Indians a 4-2 lead.

Belcher called that run the turning point of the game. Grafton coach John Gemme wasn't about to disagree.

"It was real big," Gemme said. "These girls have been doing that for the last couple of years really. They don't seem to panic when they get into that situation."

Wahconah got a hit in each of the last three innings, but never the one it needed. Grogan, Bridget Lussier and Beth McBain reached on singles but all came with two outs. Warren, the fourth-inning hero, struck out to end the sixth while Grogan, for the first time in three at-bats, couldn't beat out the throw to end the game.

"Obviously if we could've strung a few hits together, things would've been a little different," Lavinio said. "Just making better contact with [Roy], obviously, would've been a little better."

Lavinio and Grogan are both part of a mighty senior class that helped the Warriors not only win 21 straight after an 0-2 start in April, but win three Western Mass. titles and a state title over the last four years. That era ended painfully Friday two wins short of a second state championship.

But the loss also showcased promise for the next generation of Warriors, with Warren picking up her fourth RBI in the last two games.

"We accomplished everything this season," Warren said. "I don't know why we couldn't get it done today. We had a great season and I'm proud of what my team did."

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Grafton 4, Wahconah 2

Wahconah 000 200 0 -- 2 8 2

Grafton 201 010 x -- 4 12 0

Becca Grunow and Bree Herforth; Kendal Roy and Ali Page. W -- Roy. L -- Grunow. 2B -- Grafton 2 (Page, Tara Faford).