Turners softball holds off Hopkins comeback to reach Div. 5 state final (PHOTOS)

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 06-15-2023 10:57 AM

WESTFIELD — The Turners Falls softball team is back in a familiar position. 

The Thunder entered Tuesday’s MIAA Div. 5 semifinal against Hopkins looking to keep their season alive as they seek an 11th state championship in program history, but the No. 7 Golden Hawks didn’t make their trip to the finals an easy one. 

It looked like third-seeded Turners might cruise into the championship game after racing ahead 8-1 after three innings. Hopkins — whose bats have been on fire throughout the postseason — kept chipping away, ultimately cutting the lead to 9-5 heading into the seventh. 

The Golden Hawks scored twice in their final at-bat but the rally wasn’t able to produce the four runs it needed to stay alive, with the Thunder reaching the championship game via a 9-7 victory at Westfield State University. 

Turners moves on to play No. 1 Greenfield in the state final at 3 p.m. on Friday at UMass’ Sortino Field. 

“We survived,” Thunder coach Gary Mullins said. “Hopkins is a good club but we gave them a lot of chances today and that’s how you get beat. Our top of the order came up big.” 

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For Hopkins (19-4), it’s not the way they wanted it to end, but coach Paula Cristoforo said she is proud of how her team has played to reach the state semifinals. 

“We worked hard,” Cristoforo said. “We started out down 4-0 and we knew we had to work hard, battle back and make the plays we need to make. We made a couple of errors which is unusual for us but we actually finished with more hits than them. I think we did OK. We hung with them and showed that we’re a never give up kind of team. Making the final four is great with me.” 

Turners (18-7) got things going during its first plate appearance. Madi Liimatainen reached on a leadoff single, Holly Myers walked and Morgan Dobias cracked a single that scored Liimatainen from second. 

Cadi Wozniak walked to load the bases for Janelle Massey, who blasted a double to deep center field that cleared the bases and gave the Thunder a 4-0 lead. 

Turners tacked two on in the second, then Hopkins got one back in the third to cut the lead to 6-1. Turners responded by getting two in the bottom of the frame, with Addison Talbot walking and moving to third after a Golden Hawk error when Marilyn Abarua put the ball in play. 

Talbot made it home after a throw to pick her off at third was offline. Abarua moved to third on the play and scored on a Mia Marigliano ground out to make it an 8-1 game heading into the fourth. 

Hopkins began chipping away in the fourth. Lily Ellia got on with a walk, moved to third on a Cassie Dion single and scored on a wild pitch. Dion stole second and third and reached home on a Isabelle Palmisano sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 8-3. 

Two more came across for the Golden Hawks in the fifth. Cassidi Mushenski cracked a triple and Maggie Potter got on after being hit by a pitch. Potter stole second and both she and Mushenski scored on a Jessica Markowski single up the middle to cut the lead to 8-5. 

After Turners kept Hopkins from further cutting into the lead in the sixth, the Thunder tacked on an insurance run of their own. Liimatainen singled, moved over to second on a Myers fly out and scored after Dobias ripped a single to extend Turners’ lead to 9-5 heading into the final inning. 

“We had to stay in the aggressive mindset,” Dobias said. “We wanted to come out good and end the game well. We have a lot of young girls but they’re so much better than they were at the beginning of the year. We’ve come so far.” 

The Golden Hawks made things interesting in the seventh. Potter got on with a leadoff single and Markowski reached with an error, putting runners on first and second with no outs. 

Ellia grounded out to move the runners up and Dion grounded out to score Potter. Palmisano then cracked a hit to score Avery Verdi, running for Markowski, to cut the lead to 9-7, but Liimatainen got Daisy Venditti to ground out to close out the game. 

While the Golden Hawks are graduating a good chunk of their roster, a solid young core returns and Cristoforo said she feels the outlook of the program is strong. 

“We knew we could come back and we knew we would,” Cristoforo said. “This team will lose six seniors but we still have six returners. There’s a lot to be excited about. Those six returners will be young and we have a great feeder program. The future is bright for this program.” 

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