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Belchertown softball gears up for championship game Saturday

Emily Silva of Belchertown hits a single against Hampshire Regional during  the Western Massachusetts Division 2 semifinal Wednesday at Sortino Field in Amherst.

Emily Silva of Belchertown hits a single against Hampshire Regional during the Western Massachusetts Division 2 semifinal Wednesday at Sortino Field in Amherst. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

AMHERST — First-year head coach Matt Stenuis wanted to inject some fun into the Belchertown softball team this season, so he did something different with the first day of tryouts in March.

“We made it real light. We had a softball Olympics,” said Stenuis, who was an assistant under Tim Sigda from 2009 through last season. “Every kid competed. The seniors each had a team and they all competed against one another.”

It was an idea Stenuis found online. College programs like Oklahoma and Tennessee use it.

The Belchertown program involved events to test players’ speed and agility, strength, glove work and coordination.

“We came in with the attitude of, ‘Let’s have fun. Let’s see how much we can mesh everyone together in a different way,’ ” Stenuis said.

The players weren’t entirely sure what to expect, but quickly saw they could juggle the fun with the required hard work and focus needed for a successful season.

“At first, we were all thinking that it wasn’t that serious, that things might be more fun,” senior pitcher Samantha Manitsas said. “And it has been, but (Stenuis has) also done a great job of making practice very productive while also being enjoyable. We get a ton done at the same time.

“That first day set the tone to be a lot of fun and enjoyable season where we were having a good time,” Manitsas said.

The Orioles (18-4) have thrived under Stenuis, battling through a tough schedule to win the Suburban League title and land the top seed in the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament.

They will play No. 2 Wahconah Regional (20-2) in their first-ever championship game at Sortino Field at the University of Massachusetts on Saturday at 2 p.m. Because there is a chance it might rain Saturday, a decision to postpone the game will be made at 8 a.m.

“We just want to come in, play our best and work as hard as we can,” senior Emily Silva said. “We want to represent our school in the best possible way.”

In the regular season, Belchertown played 16 of its 20 games against Division 1 teams, including one each against D-1 finalists Longmeadow and Agawam. The Orioles beat the Lancers 1-0 and were one out from beating the Brownies before falling 3-2 in nine innings.

“I think (the schedule) really helped this year,” Manitsas said. “We play a lot of D-1 teams. It’s a really difficult schedule, but it’s helped prepare us to play.”

Wahconah, meanwhile, has won 20 straight games and won the 2010 and 2011 WMass titles before falling in the semifinals in 2012.

The Warriors are led by senior Gabby Lavinio, who hit 12 home runs during the regular season.

“They are very well coached,” Stenuis said. “We are just working on the every day things. We don’t change anything. The girls will show up and be ready to go. We’ll do some situational stuff to prepare for (Wahconah). Our kids are smart. They adjust well.”

The Orioles have run off 14 straight wins since that loss to the Brownies on the road April 22, and are 6-0 against D-2 teams this season, including Wednesday’s 3-1 semifinal win over defending champion Hampshire Regional.

“We are all out there together,” Manitsas said. “We are having fun. We love playing together, and I think the coaching has really helped. He’s really motivating.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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