PHS softball marches back to Western Mass. D-I championship game with win over Agawam

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JAKE MENDEL — THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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AMHERST — For the third-straight year the Pittsfield softball team is headed to the Western Massachusetts Division I championship after a 5-2 victory over Agawam in the semifinals on Monday.

"I knew we would make it back," second basemen Natasha Shade said. "But we had to take it step-by-step and game-by-game. Just working hard and getting here means a lot to the seniors and this team."

The Generals have not only put in the work, but have continued to show why they are one of the most talented and well-disciplined teams in the section. Their strongest trait could potentially be their accountability, which was on display early in the win at Sortino Field.

In the top of the first inning Gianna Boyle cracked a double and senior ace Tess Lyon gestured to the dugout that she had missed her spot.

"I took the blame and I let them know," Lyon said. "I think it's key because if I know what I am doing wrong, I know I can correct it."

It didn't take long for the senior to find her groove, as she retired the next two batters she faced to end the inning.

In the bottom of the first, Pittsfield wasted no time plating its first run and it was the consistency of Shade who got things rolling. After reaching on a walk it only took Shade one pitch before stealing second.

Sarah McMahon dropped down a perfect bunt and an errant throw allowed Shade to sprint from second to home, giving the Generals an early 1-0 lead.

"Getting out to an early lead is important to us," Shade said. "It motivates us and takes some of the pressure off."

Playing in a college stadium during the biggest game of the year may come with some nerves, and according to coach Greg Marchbanks, Monday's game came down to who could get comfortable the quickest.

"You're the home team but this isn't your home," Marchbanks said. "Most of our players came here before but you get the jitters, you could see it in both teams. If you watch the College World Series, they get nervous. Everyone gets [the jitters] and it's about bouncing back, focusing, and remembering that it is just a game."

With the score tied at one in the top of the third, that reminder from Pittsfield's ninth-year coach was just what the Generals needed.

For the second-straight inning the Brownies had runners at second and third and Marchbanks made a trip to the mound.

"I just walked out there to settle them down and remind them that we are playing softball," Marchbanks said. "I made them look at each other and told them that we got this and to remain confident. They listened to it and did exactly what they needed to."

That was just the nudge the Generals needed. Agawam's Madison O'Connell sent a pitch to right field that should've been deep enough to plate a run, but Mia Potash caught the ball fired a strike to the infield that forced the runner to hold at third.

"I always make sure I am back on the ball," Potash said. "That way I can get a running start and just let it fly."

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Lyon and the Generals ended the inning without allowing a run, and the energy coming from the Pittsfield dugout was a little stronger in the bottom half of the frame.

McMahon got things started with a single, then Potash, who was 4 for 4 with a run, followed with an opposite-field single and Brianna Clary added a single of her own to load the bases.

With two outs Szofia Lewis stepped into the box and delivered a single that dropped on the outfield grass to plate McMahon and break the tie. The knock by Lewis was just the start of the two-out rally, as Lexi Sondrini plated two more runs on a single and Jordyn Lummus capped the inning with an RBI single of her own.

By the time the dust settled the Generals had a 5-1 lead — and more importantly were looking like the team that had only lost five of their last 45 games.

The final four innings belonged to Lyon and the PHS defense. Agawam plated a run in the fifth, otherwise it was Lummus soaring through the outfield to capture fly balls and Shade squashing threats with tag em' out, throw em' out double plays.

"I rely on my team a lot," Lyon said. "I trust each and every one of them and they really helped me out today."

The Generals will have to wait until the weekend to defend their Western Mass. D-I crown, as the championship game isn't until Saturday.

"I am pretty excited and I want to go play the [championship] now," Lyon said. "Its good to be going back in my senior year. We've worked and prepared all year for this game, we'll be ready. "

To help the Generals prepare for the game, Giuliana Pierce, the pitcher on last year's squad, may make an appearance this week and throw to the current Pittsfield squad to help them prepare for the big game. Waiting for them will be a Minnechaug squad that defeated the Generals in the 2017 D-1 finals.

Coach Marchbanks remained at UMass to scout the team Pittsfield hasn't played in a few years, but that doesn't mean Marchbanks hasn't tried to arrange a regular-season game with the Falcons.

"They refused to play us," Marchbanks said.

First pitch of the Western Mass. D-I tournament is scheduled for Saturday at Sortino Field with the start time to be determined.

———

Agawam     010     010     0     —     2     8     1

Pittsfield     104     000     x     —     5     10     0

Sarah Ross and Sarah Champigny. Tess Lyon and Szofia Lewis. W — Lyon. L — Ross. 2B — A 1 (Gianna Boyle).

Jake Mendel can be reached at jmendel@berkshireeagle.com, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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