By Craig Holt
The Central Mass. Tournament is in full swing this week and Nashoba Regional’s top-seeded softball team is in the thick of it.
The Chieftains commenced the post-season with a bang last Saturday afternoon as senior pitcher Emily Sargent took command in a Central Mass. Division 1 quarterfinal against ninth-seeded Algonquin Regional. Sargent pitched a complete game, struck out 10 and whacked a home run, powering the Chieftains to a harder-than-it-looked 3-2 victory before a large crowd at home.
“It’s always good to have a challenging game in the post-season,” Nashoba coach Steve Kendall said. “Having a little bit of adversity to battle through is a good thing.”
“Algonquin has a very good team, and they have a very good pitcher,” Kendall continued. “They also play good defense and they make nice plays defensively. They’re here (in the tournament) for a reason. We’ve played them before – we knew they were good. You’re not going to be playing a weak team in the post-season, so we’re happy to get the win.”
Nashoba (20-1) played fourth-seeded Shepherd Hill Regional in a semifinal earlier this week at Worcester State University. The Rams (15-6) downed Westboro in their first post-season game.
The Tomahawks, who defeated Marlboro in a first round game, finished 13-9. Algonquin lost to Nashoba during the regular season, 6-0. Though Sargent was effective in twirling the shutout, the game was close, Kendall said.
To the surprise of no one, Sargent had her game face on from the get-go during Saturday’s clash. She allowed just four hits and walked one. Sargent struck out the side in the first inning and added two or more whiffs in the second and fifth innings. Sargent upped her strikeout total to 247, tops in Central Mass this season.
After the Tomahawks closed to 3-2 with two runs in the sixth inning, Sargent finished strong, striking out the lead-off batter in the seventh and retiring the next two hitters on soft pops to first baseman Joyce LaBonte.
In retrospect, it was standard fare for Nashoba’s hard-throwing ace, who received solid defensive support from start to finish.
But In this particular game, it was Sargent’s bat that proved to be the difference. She walloped a solo home run over the left-field fence in the fifth inning, increasing the Chieftains’ lead to 3-0.
“Emily Sargent had a great game with her pitching and her hitting,” Kendall said. “Her pitching was outstanding. We haven’t played in over a week, though she got a couple of innings in the other day when we had a scrimmage. Obviously, her hitting was big for us in this game.”
Kendall credited Sargent’s battery-mate, senior catcher Ali Lane, noting that the hard-working backstop called a great game. Much of Sargent’s success has come with Lane behind the plate. The duo have chemistry and are very good friends. And like Sargent, Lane swings a mean bat.
“Pretty much three solid years they’ve been together with Emily pitching and Ali catching,” Kendall added. “They work very well together.”
Despite Sargent’s brilliance, Algonquin came out swinging in the sixth inning. Baylee Burns rapped a lead-off single and scurried home on Maddie Collins’ double. Collins advanced to third base on a fly out to right-field and scored on an infield out.
The Chieftains took a 2-0 lead with a two-run splurge in the second inning. Joyce LaBonte (hit by a pitch), Rachel Farley (single) and Kassie Sidopoulos (double) reached base to start the inning. Nashoba scored its runs when Andrea LaBonte’s infield grounder got past the second baseman.
Lane had a single in the first inning while Joyce LaBonte cracked a double in the third.
Nashoba will be looking to continue a good thing this week. The Chieftains began this season with 19 straight wins. Holy Name stopped the streak with a victory over the locals in Nashoba’s final regular-season game.
At press time, the team was headed to Worcester State College for a Tuesday night semi-final game against Shepherd Hill Regional.
UPDATE: Nashoba fell 2-0 to Shepherd Hill on Tuesday night, ending their season. There were no runs scored by either team for the first 5 innings. Shepherd Hill scored one run in both the 6th and 7th for the final 2-0 win.