Div. I Softball Championship: Taylor-made win as Alvirne tops Salem
Wearing a confident smile the entire game, the two-time New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year made the early lead stand, tossing a five-hitter in a 5-1 victory over previously undefeated and top-ranked Salem. Last season the UMass-Amherst bound righty threw a shutout as Alvirne claimed its first-ever softball title.
On Saturday, before a sizeable crowd surrounding the Southern New Hampshire University diamond, the third-seeded Broncos (18-4) broke through with three runs in the top of the first. Chelsey Drew walloped a towering two-out, two-run homer to right two pitches after Kaylee Carbone took advantage of a throwing error to score on a double-steal play with runners at the corners.
The leadoff hitting Carbone, a freshman shortstop and younger sister of pitcher Taylor, was an effective table setter for Alvirne throughout the tourney. She initiated the rally by slapping the second pitch of the game to right.
'I got a high inside fastball, my favorite pitch,' said Drew, one of five Alvirne juniors. It was her fourth homer of the season. 'It felt great to hit it and get the team pumped. Once we got the lead, I knew we weren't going to give it up.'
Armed with a lead, Carbone and battery mate Nicole Abreau, grew more confident and began calling pitches to secure outs rather than nibbling corners.
'It was more relaxing pitching with a lead,' said Carbone, who struck out three and walked one while flashing a smile and enjoying herself in the circle. 'Softball's my life. I've learned that if I enjoy myself, I'll pitch better because I won't get uptight.'
The three-run rally was one more than the total score Salem conceded in its previous three tourney wins. They entered the finale outscoring the previous tourney opposition 31-2. The Blue Devils beat Alvirne 6-3 during the regular season.
Salem responded in its first trip up, with leadoff hitter Sarah Frahm singling and coming home on Steph Long's single to right.
'We felt at least we were back in the game by scoring that run,' said Salem coach Harold Sachs. 'But we didn't put on much more pressure after that. Taylor came up with one big pitch after another and they hit the ball. We didn't.''
Bronco batters kept getting good rips, keeping Salem outfielders busy. Rachel Morrissey, Rachel Murphy and Long made fine running catches through the middle innings of the game.
Alvirne added insurance runs in the seventh with Jenna Giannelli plating two runs with a bases-loaded single.
After losing in last season's quarterfinal round, Salem played purposefully and powerfully all season long, winning 16 of 22 games by shutout before falling victim to the defending champions.
'A lot of credit has to go to their first-year coach (Sarah Brisk). She took a good team and made them better,' said Sachs, who recorded his 500th high school victory last season. Salem's won 14 championships during Sachs' tenure. The program owns 16 championship plaques overall.
Back when Brisk, then Sarah Gagnon, was a standout Alvirne pitcher, she received summertime tutelage from Sachs. She didn't defeat the Blue Devils before graduating in 1996, and eventually pitched for Sachs at UMass-Lowell.
Alvirne felt confident they could beat New Hampshire's perennial powerhouse team. They proved it with timely hitting, superb defense and a prime-time pitcher.
'I've been coaching some of these kids since they were 12-year olds,' said Brisk. 'As a coach you get to know players, and I had a feeling - all week long - that they were going to pull this off.'
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Eric Emmerling may be reached at email@example.com.