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Hopkins Academy, Hampshire Regional eye state semifinal wins

KEVIN GUTTING
Alexis Ferris and the Hampshire Regional softball team will face two-time state champ Grafton in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Worcester State.

KEVIN GUTTING Alexis Ferris and the Hampshire Regional softball team will face two-time state champ Grafton in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Worcester State. Purchase photo reprints »

After accomplishing something the program hasn’t in over a quarter-century, the Hopkins Academy baseball team turns its attention to ending a drought three years older.

The Golden Hawks defeated Turners Falls 5-2 Saturday to win the inaugural Western Massachusetts Division 4 championship, their first sectional title since 1988.

With a win in Tuesday’s state Division 4 semifinal, Hopkins (13-9) will advance to its first state championship game since 1985.

“The guys’ feet are back on the ground (after Saturday),” Hopkins coach Jordan Branson said. “Practice has gone well the last couple days. The guys look like they’re still in top form.”

Branson expressed no concern about his players being content with the western Mass. title.

“We couldn’t be happier and more excited to win western Mass. and that we get to play more baseball, but we want to keep this going as long as we can,” he said. “There’s as much motivation to win (Tuesday) as there’s been in every tournament game so far.”

Central Massachusetts champion Oxford (22-2) will make the trip to UMass for the state semifinal Tuesday at 4 p.m. The Pirates earned their first sectional championship since 1986.

“I know they’ve won a ton of games,” Branson said. “But I told our guys they’re not 22-2, they’re 4-0 (in tournament play), just like we are.”

A deep Oxford lineup boasts seven .300-plus hitters, with six of them knocking in double-digit runs. They also have three pitchers with an ERA under 2.00.

“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Branson added. “To get to this point, any team needs a depth of hitters and a few quality pitchers. Both teams seem to have that, so it should be a good game.”

Branson wouldn’t reveal his starting pitcher, but John Jacques, Jonathan Morrison, Brett Morrison and Patrick Michalak are all potential starters.

Senior ace Andrew Omer isn’t likely to pitch after Saturday’s complete-game victory. But Branson didn’t completely rule out a relief appearance if Omer’s arm feels good.

The Hopkins offense has been dynamic thus far in postseason with a team batting average of .330 and roughly seven runs per game.

One area the Hawks have been able to overcome so far is defense. They’ve made nine postseason errors, including four in the semifinal win over Gateway.

“The defense hasn’t been real tight for us, but we’ve been able to pitch out of some jams and get enough clutch hits to make up for it,” Branson said. “We know the further we go in the tournament, those mistakes will be harder to cover up.”

Division 2 softball

After outlasting Frontier 2-1 in 10 innings Saturday to win its second WMass title in three years, Hampshire Regional’s next challenge is to dethrone the two-time defending state champion.

The Raiders (19-3) are set to face unbeaten central Mass. champ Grafton (23-0) in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Worcester State.

“We had a great practice (Monday), and we’re ready to go,” Hampshire coach Brian McGan said. “Playing the Division 1 schedule this season and seeing the top pitchers in western Mass. should help us. And having two really tight games in the tournament so far has prepared us.”

Four Hampshire players — seniors Anna Dziok and Bri Weltlich, junior Savannah Waters and sophomore Chelsea Moussette — participated in the 2012 state semifinal.

“We have a nice core of players who played in the state semifinal two years ago,” McGan said. “We talked about not being satisfied and opening another door to get to the next level.”

The Raiders nearly reached that next level in 2012, losing to Grafton 3-2.

Indians senior Kendal Roy (23-0 record) earned the win in that game and will be back in the circle Tuesday. She registered an ERA of 0.78 during the regular season with 217 strikeouts.

“She’s one of the best in the state,” McGan said. “We faced her two years ago, and I’m sure she’s gotten better since then. Hopefully, we can scratch a few runs across and see if that’s enough.”

Coming off a complete-game, 17-strikeout win in the sectional final, Hampshire sophomore Alexis Ferris enters with a 14-1 mark.

“We’re fully confident in (Ferris’) ability, and she’s come up huge so far in the postseason,” McGan said. “Pitching and defense have been our strong suits, then we get the hits we need to win. All our kids have come through at some point this year.”

Grafton has nine .300-plus hitters and three who surpassed .400, led by Shelbe Turpin’s .451. Lindsay Sawtelle and Amanda Voellings each drove in a team-high 22 runs.

“We definitely need to keep a zero in our error column,” McGan said. “If we play solid defense and square up a few balls at the plate, I think we’ll have a good shot.”

Michael Wilkinson can be reached at mwilkinson@gazettenet.com.

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