Pittsfield softball falls to Minnechaug in Western Mass. D-I championship game

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MIKE WALSH - THE BERKSHIRE EAGLE
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AMHERST —With timely hitting and aggressive base running, the Pittsfield softball team reached its third-straight Western Massachusetts D-I championship game Saturday afternoon. The Generals, though, would not repeat as champions after falling to Minnechaug 3-1 in the championship game at UMass.

Minnechaug pitcher Katelyn Thompson dazzled, only allowing four hits while striking out nine in the win. Meanwhile, on the other sideline, Pittsfield entered the season without a pitcher until senior Tess Lyon stepped up and powered Pittsfield to 19 of their 20 wins on the season.

"She hadn't pitched since freshmen year," coach Greg Marchbanks said. "She worked her [butt] off all summer and won 19 games, that's absolutely amazing."

Outside of a 3-run third inning, the Lyon and the Pittsfield defense was locked in and it started in the first inning. With one down, a ball was smoked to shortstop where Madison Tobin made a diving stop, popped to her feet, and fired to first for the out.

"[Getting dirty] is the best part of the game," Tobin, a junior-captain said. "You have to get dirty, otherwise it's not a game."

While the Generals were held hitless through two innings, their energy remained high and it started with senior third basemen Brianna Clary, who kept everyone motivated with her energy in the dugout.

"Especially in games like these we need to keep the energy up," Clary said. "So if someone gets a hit we need the energy to build off momentum."

It looked like the Generals would kick-start a rally in the third, as Szofia Lewis started the inning with a single. However, Thompson retired the next two batters she faced via strikeouts to take the wind out of Pittsfield's sail.

Lyon and the Generals ran into some trouble in the bottom of the third as Minnechaug's Isabella Ferrara reached on an error before the Falcons strung together three straight singles. Thompson, Jenna Murray and Melanie Ward picked up RBI hits during the three-run frame. During the rally, Lewis was involved with a collision at the plate and had to get her throwing hand bandaged up. Instead of exiting the game, the junior followed the lead of the seniors and pushed through it.

"To see both Tobin and Lewis stepping up into leadership roles as juniors is huge," Marchbanks said. "They were huge with the seniors to drive everyone."

Lewis was rewarded for her efforts in the top of the fifth as she launched a double to deep-center field that plated Lyon and cut the lead to 3-1. After the game Lewis joked that the hit did make her hand feel a bit better.

"I knew it was a crucial moment in the game and I don't want [the injury] to affect me negatively," Lewis explained. "My main goal is to emulate the leadership we had this year. Our seniors took on such a great role and they were so positive."

For the remainder of the game, Lyon and Thompson displayed why they were the two best pitchers in the Western Mass. D-I tournament, as a runner didn't pass first for either team.

After the game, a handful of the seniors were asked to summarize the season and all agreed that "It's our time" is the best way to summarize the 2019 campaign, but in reality, "their time" has been the last three seasons with three-straight championship game appearances that included a first-place finish in 2018.

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"They continue to echo everything that was handed to them from previous classes," Marchbanks said. "They've carried that tradition of coming out, playing hard, and reaching [the title] game. They expect it and know they can do it."

The Generals say goodbye to Lyon, Clary, Elise Wellman, Natasha Shade, Brooke Cowlin and Sarah McMahon, who all graduated.

"We start from day one and work really hard, find weaknesses and build on them every year," McMahon said while reflecting on her time as a General. "It feels really good to come back here with this group because we are all so close and comfortable with each other."

"It means everything to play with this senior core," Tobin said. "They're my best friends and its been a wild experience."

While explaining what makes the Generals special, Tobin mentioned how important coach Marchbanks has been to their development. Marchbanks often studies opposing pitchers to the point where he can emulate their throwing motions to help his team prepare.

"We have the best coach," Tobin said. "He thought himself a rise ball in one day, so I give a lot of credit to him."

The game marked the end of a journey that included a core of softball players Marchbanks has coached since most of them were nine years old, however, their work ethic of the group is already noticed in the up-and-coming Generals.

"The amount of stuff they do to get better, " Marchbanks explained. "Some of them already have tournaments tomorrow. That's the expectation they set. I don't make them do anything, they want it.

"They bleed purple and love softball."

———

Pittsfield     000     010     0     —     1     4     2

Minnechaug     003     000     x     —     3     6     2

Tess Lyon and Szofia Lewis. Katelyn Thompson and Kelsey Allard. W — Thompson. L — Lyon. 2B — P 1 (Lewis).

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


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