It was definitely a game for the ages, but, when you get to this point of the season, it should be.
Playing for its second Division 1 State Championship in as many years, the King Philip softball team was up to the challenge, but so was its opponent, Amherst. When the final out was recorded, it was once again the Warriors holding up the State Champion trophy on Worcester State University's Rockwood Field.
KP outlasted the Hurricanes, 1-0, to close out the season a perfect 26-0.
When asked about the perfect season and earning a second straight state title, KP Coach Jim Leonard held nothing back and noted that was what they were shooting for.
"That was our plan. [With] what we saw from (Meg) Rico last year, we knew that we had a balanced roster that could make a run," the coach said. "We had the right girls step up at the right time; give all the credit to those girls. To go 26-0 that's real hard work and I'm real proud of those girls."
Through five and a half innings, the game remained scoreless. The Hurricanes had managed to bang out five hits against KP, but the Warriors were being no-hit by Emma Mendoker. The bottom of the sixth, though, was a game-changer.
With two outs and the last five batters striking out, the Warrior bats came alive. Rico broke up Mendoker's perfect game with a single up the middle and, as is always the case, Hailey Mullen came in to run for the pitcher.
Jenn Robillard laid down a perfect bunt that she beat out, while Mullen, surveying the situation, realized no one was covering third. She scurried over to the hot corner. Robillard moved up to second when Amherst attempted to make an effort on the courtesy runner. Alyssa Siegmann loaded the bases up after she was hit by a pitch.
"I knew that we had to get it done. We were struggling hitting her and I knew that someone had to do it," Rico said. "I know that I'm the nine batter and they're thinking that I'm not going to do much up there, so I had to get it done."
Meg Carnase, after talking to her coach after a timeout, hit a ball to left centerfield, which the centerfielder had trouble with and dropped. Mullen, Robillard and Siegmann came around to score, and gave the Warriors a comfortable 3-0 lead. After an Amherst appeal, though, Robillard was called out for not touching third base, and the final two runs are taken off the board.
"I told her (Carnase) to relax and get the bat on the ball," the KP coach said. "There's a lot of room in the outfield and she's a superb hitter, with a great swing."
Anyone knowing the Warriors as a whole, knows that one run was all the team would need to grab the victory. Rico would strike out the side in the seventh — giving her a season-high 19 strikeouts — and the championship would be coming back to Wrentham.
Prior to the heroics in the sixth inning, Rico was embattled in a fierce pitching duel with Mendoker — the two hurlers were frequently posting zeros on the scoreboard. While KP couldn't seem to solve Mendoker, the west champions seemed to have the answer to Rico.
Amherst had its opportunities, but couldn't break the heart and desire of the Warriors pitcher. Rico's first three pitches of the evening resulted in runners on first and third with no outs.
Quianna Diaz-Patterson blooped the game's first pitch over second for a base hit. She stole second on the next pitch, and was scampering into third when Simone Frank beat out a bunt. Frank would steal second, but Rico bore down and struck out Amherst's three, four and five hitters to strand the runners.
"That's been our bread-and-butter offensively all year. Quianna is so fast and I don't think there is a better bunter than Simone," said Hurricane Coach Karen Schmitt. "That was our plan, get Quianna on, bunt her over and then let our power hitters (Zoe Dillon-Davidson and Mendoker) do their job. Kudos to Meg Rico; she pitched a great game and kept us from delivering those runs."
After Amherst got the first two runners into scoring position, Rico knew she had to be very careful and go for the strikeouts. Anything else could be lethal.
"With no outs and a runner on third — yeah, I have confidence in my defense, but she's lightning fast," the KP pitcher said. "I couldn't let them get the bunt down, or she'd score."
When his pitcher was able to get out of the first-inning jam and trouble in the sixth (runners on second and third, but this time with one out), Leonard knew this game was KP's for the taking.
"You can almost come to expect perfection from her," Leonard said. "They put some base runners on, and she takes the pressure away. It was huge for us to strand those runners in the first and sixth innings. We beat a good team tonight."
Amherst was a team that was almost able to ruin King Philip's perfect season and second straight title run — a team that KP Athletic Director Steve Schairer is more than happy to see only once in a great while.
"Amherst, you have nothing to be ashamed of. We saw a very good game tonight, and I'm glad that we don't have to play you more than once a year," the AD said, just prior to handing out the championship trophy to the KP captains. "To win the State Championship once is an accomplishment, and twice is very hard to do, but here it is!"
With the majority of the team back next year, except for Anna Kelley, Robillard and Kelsey Gray, does anyone dare say three-peat? I'm sure it's in the back of the coaching staff's minds.