Bay State Games: Franklin County contingent powering West softball team into gold medal game (PHOTOS)

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-12-2023 5:22 PM

DEVENS – Madison Liimatainen has hit more than her fair share of home runs for Turners Falls and various travel and club softball teams. Never one like the one that cleared the Willard Field fence Wednesday, though.

In the first of two Bay State Games pool play contests against team Metro, she launched a ball to deep center field in the top of the second inning. Liimatainen saw it heading right for the center fielder and slowed her jog.

The ball bounced off the center fielder’s glove and over the outfield fence for a two-run homer.

“I’ve never seen it happen before,” Liimatainen said. “I wasn’t sure how far it went. I knew I hit it good. I thought she caught it, but everybody said run and I didn’t know why. I looked out there and saw the ball was dropped, I didn’t realize it went over the fence.”

Her West teammates wondered aloud in the dugout whether they should greet her at home plate before pouring out to welcome her home. The bounce punctuated the West’s 10-1 victory and began a second-straight undefeated day. Now 4-0, the team is in line for a berth in the gold medal game regardless of how Thursday’s opener against Southeast (11 a.m.) goes. The gold medal match would likely be a doubleheader, as the West and Southeast have topped the standings through two days.

Liimatainen’s Franklin County foe but Bay State teammate Hannah Gilbert struck out eight in a six-inning complete game. She allowed just one hit in the bottom of the third inning, and it was a close play at first.

“We’re very good together based off of not being able to play together through school,” Liimatainen said. “With the amount of practice we’ve had, we’ve gelled together.”

The first five West batters of the game reached. After an error, West Springfield’s Morgan Peabody doubled, missing a home run by feet that dropped in front of a fence blown backward by wind. Westfield’s Kelsey Bouchard brought two runs home with a double, and Allyssa Slack of Westfield Tech made it 3-0 with an RBI single.

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A fielder’s choice brought in a fourth run in the second, setting up Liimatainen’s homer.

In the third, Gilbert hit an RBI double, Hampshire Regional’s CC Thayer hit an RBI double, and Frontier rising freshman Skyler Steele brought her home with a ground out to extend the lead to 9-0. 

Peabody tacked on the the 10th run with an RBI single in the top of the sixth. The game’s timer sounded in the sixth inning, which prevented things from going to a seventh despite Metro’s run to cut the deficit to nine.

The West’s second game of the day proved much tighter, but they remained unbeaten with a 1-0 triumph. Central pitcher Hannah Reardon didn’t surrender a baserunner until Hampshire’s Ryanne Dubay singled with two outs in the bottom of the third.

That was one of just six West hits in a 1-0 win. With one out in the bottom of the fourth, Slack laid down a bunt single then stole second. Peabody sent a single to the outfield, and Slack beat the throw home from center field and dodged the tag.

Liimatainen singled in the bottom of the sixth but was thrown out at home trying to stretch another single into an insurance run. Fortunately West pitcher Mackenzie Blair of Minnechaug was up to the task. She pitched a shutout with six strikeouts. Central managed just five hits, and Blair threw three 1-2-3 innings.

“It’s cool to see the group of people because we’re all that talented, and that’s what makes it all fun,” Liimatainen said. “We know it’s not going to be an easy game. Everything has to be good no matter who or where you’re playing.”

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