Belchertown softball breaks new ground with No. 1 seed in postseason
Samantha Manitsas of Belchertown pitches to Amherst Thursday in Amherst.
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Samantha Manitsas of Belchertown pitches to South Hadley Monday at Beech Grounds in South Hadley.
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NORTHAMPTON — The Belchertown softball team made history Tuesday, becoming the program’s first No. 1 seed in the 21st century after a stellar regular season.
“The kids have worked hard,” Orioles coach Matt Stenuis said. “They’ve shown up every day. The hard work has paid off.”
Now Belchertown (16-4) turns its focus to making some postseason history.
From 2000 through 2012, the Orioles made the tournament nine times and never advanced past the quarterfinals. This year’s squad, which won the Suburban League, has a bye to the quarters and will square off against the winner of a first-round game between No. 8 Hoosac Valley (10-7) and No. 9 Monson (13-7).
Stenuis believes this is the team to finally put together a deep run.
“I’ve been around for 5-6 years now,” said Stenuis, who moved up to the head coaching role prior to this season. “This year, the senior leadership has been tremendous. It is probably one of the best senior class and they’ve set the tone for the underclassmen.”
Belchertown had the fourth-best record among the 11 teams in the Division 2 field, but played by far the most difficult schedule, with 16 games against Division 1 teams, and that strength of schedule led to the top spot.
“We’ve seen some real good pitching along the way,” Stenuis said of the way the tough schedule prepared his team for the postseason. “Defensively, we knew we were going to be solid. I think we are little bit better than we thought we were going to be. Hitting has really been the key. Up and down the order, everybody has come through for us.”
Erinne Dull (.429 batting average, .474 on-base, .686 slugging) anchored a talented lineup that included Téa Spellacy (.389/.416/.556), Samantha Manitsas (.397/.463/.500), Emily Silva (.340/.468/.400) and Erica Boileau (.328/.379/.377).
In the circle, senior Manitsas posted a 1.98 ERA in 1342∕3 innings. She struck out 109 batters and walked 30.
Overall, the Division 2 field is as deep as it has been in some time. Defending champion Hampshire Regional, which has reached the title game four straight years, is the No. 4 seed after going 17-1 and winning the Franklin League.
“I’d rather not be number one,” Raiders coach Brian McGan said. “It keeps the target off your back. That’s a tough thing to deal with.”
Hampshire has won eight straight games since being mercy-ruled at Turners Falls on May 6. The eight wins include flipping the result on the Indians with a mercy-rule shortened victory in Westhampton on May 13.
“We’ve been hitting the ball really well and we’re playing tremendous defense,” McGan said. “We’re ready to go. We’re in pretty good shape.”
No. 2 Wahconah (18-2) is a perennial power and faced Hampshire in three straight finals from 2009 through 2011 before losing to Drury in last year’s semis. Meanwhile, No. 3 Palmer (17-3) may have the best pitcher in the entire field in Nicole Handzel.
The Raiders, will host No. 5 Easthampton (14-4) in the quarterfinals Thursday at 4 p.m.
The two schools are rivals in general, but rarely meet in softball.
“Playing Hampshire is always a big deal and I know our girls will be excited for the opportunity to beat them, to knock them off,” Eagles coach Brian Miller said. “There’s always that competition between the two schools. It’s fun. That’s a good draw for us.”
Hampshire senior ace Ashlee McGan missed the team’s regular season finale Monday against Northampton, but Brian McGan, who is also her father, said he expects her to be ready for Thursday.
Frontier Regional drew the No. 6 seed after going 14-6 and hosts No. 11 Athol (11-9) in the first round Thursday at 4 p.m. The teams split the regular season series.
If the two regular season matchups are any indication, Northampton’s quarterfinal game at East Longmeadow should be a dandy.
The No. 6 Blue Devils (12-8) lost to the No. 3 Spartans (15-5) twice by one run each in the Valley Wheel rivals’ games.
Northampton allowed two runs in the sixth inning to fall 2-1 at East Longmeadow on may 5. It then fell at home 2-1 in eight innings on May 16.
The teams square off in the quarterfinals Friday at East Longmeadow at 4 p.m.
No. 3 Granby (13-5) is looking for its fourth straight trip to the Division 3 semifinals and second in a row to the title game.
The Rams’ only lost one game to a D-3 team this season, a 5-0 defeat at two-time defending state champion Turners Falls (No. 2, 18-2).
The Indians have eliminated Granby from each of the past three postseasons, including last year’s title game, 7-6.
Mount Everett finished the year 19-1 and earned the top seed.
Jim Pignatiello can be reached at email@example.com.