LUDLOW ― In a showdown between two of the strongest pitchers in Western Massachusetts, No. 5 Minnechaug softball came out on top over No. 4 Ludlow in the Western Mass Class A quarterfinals, 4-1.
Falcons starting pitcher Mackenzie Blair put in a sterling performance in the circle, striking out 13 batters and carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning before the Lions could crack the hit column, allowing just two hits and three walks.
The junior also played a key role offensively, giving Minnechaug the lead in the first inning with an RBI double and knocking in another run off a fielder’s choice in the second inning to pad Minnechaug’s lead.
Fellow junior Amy Dunklee went three-for-four from the plate and came around twice to score while sophomore Abby Peyman also picked up an RBI off a single in the second inning, as the Falcons scored two runs in the first and second innings to give Blair the platform she needed to get the win.
“Every time that our top of the order comes out on fire, it really gets the rest of the team going,” Dunklee said. “So I got a lot of pressure on me batting first, but I think coming out and getting a hold of that pitch and hitting a double in that first inning, that really drove the team (and showed) we can hit them.”
Peyman also credited the early hits to building the team’s confidence, saying they had a “domino effect”.
“If one person gets a hit, then the (next batter up) wants to keep going,” Peyman said.
The early runs were crucial for the Falcons’ confidence, especially considering their last game against the Lions. The two sides met first on Apr. 7 in just the third game of the season for both teams, with the Lions prevailing, 1-0, behind a 16-strikeout no-hitter from starting pitcher Madison Sunderland.
The Lions’ senior matched that strikeout total in her seven innings of work on Monday, but as the Falcons have proven in stretches this season, they can hit with the best. After starting the season 0-4 and scoring just 12 runs across those four games, the Falcons started to find their stride in mid-April, winning six of their next seven and scoring in the double-digits in four of the six wins.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the growth and improvement that (my players) have had from the start of the season,” Minnechaug softball coach Molly Cole said. “We’re a young team and it took us a little bit of time to find our groove.”
The Falcons struggled again in May, dropping five of their last seven regular season games to enter the postseason on a downturn. But with this win, the Falcons can rebuild their momentum and continue pushing for a deep postseason run.
“This is the first time that (this group of girls) have won a Western Mass. (tournament) game and I think that’s really exciting for the rest of the girls, I know I’m super excited about it,” Blair said. “…knowing that we can come out of our regular season on the loss like we were and go into the postseason really strong and win, (we are) super excited and I hope we can keep that energy up.”