Div. 4 softball: Elite pitcher halts top-seeded Hampshire in quarterfinals (PHOTOS)

  • Hampshire senior Bri Sulikowski gestures back to the Raiders dugout after a standagainst Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI—

  • Hampshire’s Ashley Cortis, left, welcomes Bri Sulikowski to home plate after she scored a runagainst Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire senior Bri Sulikowski crosses home plate in the fifth inniagainst Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional shortstop Bri Sulikowski throws to first base against Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional’s Ashley Cortis makes a catch over her shoulder against Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional’s Katelyn Baker, left, and Ashley Cortis laugh and cry together after in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals against Littleton on Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional third baseman Hailey Wodecki throws to first base against Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional senior Hannah Wodecki shares a hug with Raiders coach Brian McGan after the the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals aganist Littleton on Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional third baseman Hailey Wodecki loads up a throw to first base against Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire’s Teaghan Charles, right, hugs Ella Lamanson after the last out of the the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals against Littleton on Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

  • Hampshire Regional pitcher Jocleyn Mettey delivers against Littleton in the Division 4 softball state quarterfinals Friday in Westhampton. The Tigers prevailed 4-2 to end the Raiders season. STAFF PHOTO / KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer
Published: 6/10/2022 8:56:11 PM

WESTHAMPTON – Tears mixed with sweat and eye black on Katelyn Baker’s cheeks.

She watched Hampshire Regional softball coach Brian McGan hug each of the other six seniors out in left field, making his way to her. The No. 1 seeded Raiders had just lost 4-2 against No. 8 Littleton in the MIAA Division 4 quarterfinals, ending their season. He shared a moment with each of them, whispering memories and words of encouragement.

“I’ve been on this team for so long. It’s just so weird,” Baker said. “Went by fast.”

Facing one of the state’s best pitchers ended it. Littleton senior Kasey Ricard struck out 17 batters and regularly topped 60 miles per hour on the radar gun, college-level speed for the Boston University commit.

“It’s hard for these kids because they don’t see it. Nobody sees that,” McGan said. “That’s what’s called a buzzsaw. She’s gonna be tough to beat.”

Baker showed the Raiders she wasn’t unhittable in Hampshire’s first at bat. She dropped a single a few feet inside the left field line to lead off the bottom of the first inning then clapped and screamed back toward the dugout.

“I wanted everyone behind me to have the same confidence,” Baker said. “Sometimes it happens, sometimes you just fall.”

Ricard struck out the next nine Hampshire batters and didn’t allow another base runner until the bottom of the fifth inning. Eleven of those 12 outs were strikeouts.

“We knew we were in for a tough battle. It seems like when there’s kids in scoring position, she throws it even harder,” McGan said. “When Baker leads off and gets on base, it gives you a little hope. The kid just bared down.”

The Tigers offense sprung to life behind her. Bryant commit Hannah Cochran led off the third inning with a solo homer to right center field. Littleton then tacked on another run on an Ella Gearty single.

“Giving up the first run to them gives her a tougher edge to throw a little harder,” McGan said.

The Tigers loaded the bases in the fourth after an error, a hit batter and a walk. Evie Tule walked to make it 3-0, and Lindsey Barbella drove in another run with a sacrifice fly. Cochran crossed second after the catch, and Baker threw her out while she was off the base. Littleton appealed the call, but the inning ended after a short umpire’s conference.

“We knew we still had a shot, and we had to stay up to achieve it,” Hampshire senior Bri Sulikowski said. “The energy was still high in the dugout.”

Sulikowski cranked it even higher with a leadoff double in the fifth. Ashley Cortis poked a grounder through the Littleton shortstop’s legs to bring her around and cut the deficit to three runs.

“I stayed confident. I thought, ‘I can do this, I can hit this girl,’” Sulikowski said. “My first at bat was a little rough, but I knew it was a challenge to come back and hit the next one. I watched it right into my bat.”

She came through again her next at bat in the seventh with the Raiders’ backs against the wall, delivering a one-out standup triple. Hailey Wodecki followed with an RBI double that gave Hampshire a runner in scoring position and the tying run at the plate.

Ricard punched out the next two batters and punched the Tigers’ ticket to the semifinals. They’ll face No. 4 Joseph Case next week.

“We started hitting her too late in the game,” Hampshire senior Hannah Wodecki said. “There was no time to catch up.”

As Littleton received its Final Four trophy (or at least a cutout with it while the trophy supplier waits for more wood to come in), McGan took the Raiders out to left field. He told them he was proud of them and he loved him. Then he thanked his seniors, and they returned to the rest of the crew one by one after hugging their coaches. Baker shared laughs and hugs with underclassmen that she tried to lead and make herself available for.

“These young kids hugged me, and I just felt so loved,” Baker said. “It felt like I made my point, what I always wanted to do.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.

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