TAUNTON, Mass. – And, they’re back. King Philip’s top seeded softball team started their tournament march with an unusually quiet offensive attack, racking up just three runs through their first two rounds of play. But the Warriors found their groove again Saturday, posting 13 runs while blanking fifth seeded Silver Lake to advance yet again to the Division I South Finals.
As per usual, KP ace Meg Rico was in command from the start and never let up. The George Washington University bound senior hurled 17 strikeouts in the win over the Lakers at Jack Tripp Field at Taunton High School in the Division I South Semifinals.
Rico sent the first six batters she faced packing by way of the K. Meanwhile, her teammates matched their total offense from their previous two games by the end of the second inning – via an RBI triple from junior Tori Constantin that scored Rico from first base to get things going in the first, and a 2-RBI double from senior Cayleigh McCarthy that knocked in senior Meg Carnase and junior Anna O’Neill in the bottom of the second – to give their pitcher a 3-0 cushion. But she wouldn’t need it.
“We’ve had a couple of games now where we’ve just gotten one [or two],” said King Philip head coach Jim Leonard of his team’s recent offensive struggles. “[We] finally got the consistency in this game. We’re a good solid hitting team, it was just a matter of getting the repetitions necessary to kind of get it done in the game.”
They got it done indeed, as the KP bats erupted again in the bottom of the third inning. Senior catcher Olivia Godin drove a 2-RBI double to score Rico and Constantin to get the scoring going. Then, O’Neill hit an RBI double of her own, which brought Godin home. McCarthy picked up her second double just two spots later and recorded another RBI in the process.
Rico helped her own case in the bottom of the fourth, picking up an RBI single that scored senior Hailey Mullen. Then Constantin grabbed her second RBI of the day, knocking in Rico to give KP a 9-0 lead through four complete.
KP added four more runs to their total through the final two frames, most notably in the form of a 2-run homer from McCarthy in the bottom of the fifth.
“Cayleigh loves this field,” said Leonard. “She had a homerun here last year in the tournament. [She had] another real solid homerun today and that’s what she’s capable of.”
McCarthy herself was hard-pressed to disagree.
“Coming to this field is always a good feeling,” said McCarthy of her consistent success at Jack Tripp Field. “As much as I love playing at PAL, which is our home field, coming here you know you’re kind of getting down to the wire and it’s time to get stuff done.”
A 2-run homer in a state tournament semifinals game is “getting it done” by most people’s definitions.
“It was an inside pitch actually, which I wasn’t used to because I have been seeing outside all day,” explained McCarthy of the look she took deep. “Low and inside is a pitch that I tend to shy away from in practice, which is weird, but always when I swing at it in games things like this happen, so I should learn to swing at it more often. I get up to the plate and I have a great mindset. You know that you want to contribute, not that you don’t want that all season, but coming here on such a big stage just drives me to do better.”
Rico was grateful for the sense of relief that McCarthy’s 5-RBI performance delivered.
“That was great; it’s always great to have that much run support, especially as a pitcher,” said Rico of the contribution from McCarthy. “We all worked really hard. It really built everyone’s confidence too so I’m glad [Cayleigh] had the RBIs and the homerun.”
Rico, as in control as ever, notched two more K’s to close the outing and the win for her team.
"She had 17 strikeouts the other day, so that kind of changes your definition of what the norm is with her,” said Leonard of Rico’s unwavering dominance. “She’s a very consistent pitcher, has great command of her pitches. We have all the confident in the world every time we put her out there in the circle.”
Actually, coach, make that 18 strikeouts against Somerset Berkley – 11 of which she strung together consecutively to start that game on Thursday en route to a 2-0 victory.
“She knows this is the time of the year when she needs to be on her game and she just never disappoints,” said Leonard of Rico. “She’s deserved more run support than we’ve given her over the last couple of games and I think she was able to kind of sit back and just pitch today. Two games in a row with [all those] strikeouts, that’s what she’s capable of.”
But Rico knows she never does it alone.
“Everything started really well,” she said. “As the innings went on it was a little tough. My catcher helped me a lot today; she calls all the pitches. She does a really good job with that – working them inside and outside to keep them off balance.”
“We had a couple of miscues but we’ll be able to clean that up,” said Leonard. “But I don’t think they put any balls in play in the infield other than a couple of bunts and we took care of most of those.”
And the Warriors impressive offensive rebound Saturday was no matter of luck, as that too took refining.
“People wouldn’t believe the amount of hitting we’ve practiced in the past day or whatever it was,” said Rico of the run support her teammates were able to lend at last. “I think we hit every hour basically. People knew we needed to get runs. I promised the team like, “I promise guys I will throw until I have to, we just need to get a run, but I’ll do anything in my power to not let them get runs. We all practiced a lot and it really showed today.”
Rico tossed 76 pitches on the day, 65 of which were strikes. Making such quick work of her opponents usually allows for fast recoveries between starts and she expects this layover to be no different.
“My arm never really gets sore,” Rico said of her availability for tomorrow’s Division I South Final against second seeded Bridgewater-Raynham who defeated North Attleboro, 4-3, in 12 innings in the other Semifinal game which followed King Philip’s. “I’ll be ready. The team needs everyone to be ready and my arm is fine.”
McCarthy has no doubt her teammate Rico will show up big again for her team in the South Final.
“She’s always been great and we’re so, so lucky to have her,” said McCarthy. “I play with her in the summer and she’s an awesome kid and a great player, and just a great package. It’s awesome to be in the field behind her.”
McCarthy conceded that it would have been nice to face off with another Hockomock team in tomorrow’s final, especially with North Attleboro who also hails from the league’s Kelly-Rex Division, but she and the Warriors are confident squaring off against any opponent.
“I think if this team comes together we’re going to come out and win a game any day, whoever we play.”