By Craig Holt
It’s several weeks into the new season and life continues to be exceedingly splendid for Nashoba Regional’s surging softball team.
The Chieftains, jump-started by senior pitching standout Emily Sargent, started with the proverbial bang, winning their first three games, all on the road, by a combined and dominating score of 22-1. Westboro was the only squad to push across a run, tallying in the season-opener.
Against that backdrop, Sargent and friends continued their stellar play during last week’s match-up with Wachusett Regional, gaining a well-played 6-0 victory at the Mountaineers’ diamond. The right-handed Sargent went the distance, allowing two hits and striking out 15. The shutout was Sargent’s fourth straight.
The win came about 24 hours after Nashoba blanked Groton-Dunstable, 4-0, at the Chieftains’ field. Sargent had a no-hitter going through six innings and finished with 13 strikeouts. Groton-Dunstable rapped its only hit in the seventh inning.
“We’re playing well but we’ve got some things to work on, and that’s to be expected,” Nashoba coach Steve Kendall said. “We’re hitting the ball but we’re stranding runners (14 against Wachusett) and that’s something we need to work on. This time of year, you want to have some things to work on.”
Nashoba came out swinging against Wachusett and had base-runners via hits in all seven of it’s at bats. Shortstop Erin Cressman punched out three hits and knocked in three runs to spark a balanced attack. Meanwhile, Sargent helped her cause with three hits, including a double, and an RBI.
Additional offensive stalwarts included third baseman Ali Lane (two hits, run scored, RBI), centerfielder Alison Gaffney (two hits, RBI, run scored), leftfielder Caroline Bouvier (double), designated hitter Danielle Tremblay (three hits, two runs scored), and first baseman Joyce LaBonte (single, run scored, two walks). Rachel Farley rapped a single and scored a run in her only at bat. The bottom third of the Chieftains’ lineup produced seven hits.
“The bottom of our batting order is doing a great job – Danielle Tremblay (No. 7 hitter) had three hits in this game,” Kendall said. “Alison Gaffney had a couple of hits and Rachel Farley came in and had a key hit. Caroline Bouvier had a big hit in the second inning.”
After stranding two base-runners in the first inning, Nashoba erupted for four runs in its second at bat to take the lead for good.
Tremblay singled and scooted to third base on a booming double by Bouvier. No. 9 hitter Gaffney followed with a single, plating Tremblay. Lane then reached on a fielder’s choice with Bouvier being thrown out. After a sharp single by LaBonte, Sargent cracked a base hit, delivering Gaffney. Cressman followed with a single, knocking in Lane and LaBonte.
The Chieftains had opportunities to pad their advantage in each of their next four at bats, but came up empty, stranding two or more runners in the third, fourth and fifth innings, and one (on second) in the sixth.
The scoring drought was snapped in the seventh inning when the locals managed to tack on two insurance runs to account for the final margin. Tremblay got things started with a lead-off single. She moved to second on a sacrifice by Kassie Sidopoulos. Farley followed with a single, sending Tremblay to third. Farley immediately stole second, putting two runners in scoring position with one out. Lane brought in Tremblay with a sacrifice fly to deep right-field. Farley crossed the plate on a single by Cressman.
While the batters were doing their thing offensively, Sargent worked her magic on the mound. She struck out at least two batters in every inning. Sargent fanned the side in the sixth inning, all swinging. When all was said and done, Wachusett’s first four hitters, the meat of the batting order, did not hit the ball past the pitcher in 12 at bats.
For that matter, Nashoba’s fielders had little to do all game. Four of the Mountaineers’ six non-strikeout outs came on infield grounders, taps or bunts. Lane gobbled up two while catcher Andrea LaBonte, Sargent and Joyce LaBonte fielded the rest.
“Defensively, we’ve been solid though it’s tough sometimes when you don’t see a lot of balls – but you have to be ready,” Kendall said. “We moved some kids around (defensively) in this game and I thought they did a good job.”
“Emily Sargent continues to pitch great, and is probably the best pitcher around,” Kendall added. “She gets plenty of help as a lot of girls are contributing. We’ve had different starting lineups every game. We’ve got good depth – things are going well. But we’ve got to keep working. We’re not where we need to be, yet.”
Wachusett had a good chance to score in the fifth inning when it put runners at first and third (error and single) with two outs. Sargent defused the threat by retiring the Mountaineers’ No. 9 hitter on a slow roller to Lane.
Mountaineer catcher Lizzie Miles stroked a lead-off triple in the third inning but was stranded after Sargent sat down one batter on an infield out and two more on strikeouts.
“We’re happy to be 5-0, but there are tough games to play,” Kendall said. “We’ve got Dracut coming up and that will be a good test for us. We beat them last year. They’re ranked fourth in the state right now.”