LOWELL -- After getting two hits in the first inning, it had been a tough going for the Lexington softball team when the seventh inning rolled around in a scoreless MIAA Div. 1 North final at Martin Field.
Billerica's Sarah Quatiere had done a masterful job throughout the day, keeping the Minuteman offense shackled with a steady dose of changeups. So when pitcher Kiki Saveriano stepped into the batter's box to start the bottom of the seventh, she decided on a plan.
"I was thinking not to be swinging at the changeup," she said. "I was waiting for a changeup, and then I would swing at the pitch after the changeup."
The plan worked. With two strikes against her, Saveriano jumped on an outside fastball and send it to right field for a double. After that came catcher Alyssa Zahka, who ripped a soaring shot to the left field fence that scored pinch runner Meaghan Murphy and gave Lexington the North title with a 1-0 victory.
For Zahka, it was about overcoming a lost opportunity to get Lexington ahead in the bottom of the first inning, when she struck out with runners on second and third.
"In the first inning, I left [second baseman] Amanda McKenna on third, and I promised myself that this would be it," Zahka said in reference to her at-bat in the seventh. "I tried my hardest to put it in play...It's what you wanna do in that situation. I'd take four singles over a home run."
It was exactly what Lexington coach Frank Pagliuca was looking for.
"We talked about it on deck, and [Zahka] said, 'I got this, Coach'," he said. "She's done an outstanding job all year behind the plate...I wanted her to put the ball in paly and she did that."
Pagliuca was also happy with Saveriano's 12-strikeout effort despite less-than-ideal pitching conditions with 90-degree heat and high humidity.
"It's not the ideal pitching situation," he said. "When it's hot like this, you tend to lose control. She had to re-focus on her pitch selection, which is not easy in this kind of weather."
After Lexington had the first big crack at scoring in the first, Quatiere and Saveriano settled in and had their pitcher's duel. While the former induced plenty of pop flies and ground balls from the Minuteman offense, the latter used her powerful heater to blow away the Indians. Both ways were effective.
But just as Quatiere was in the first, Saveriano became under siege in the bottom of the sixth. After getting Leah McWilliams to ground out, Quatiere laced a single up the middle. She was followed by Jamie Jacobs, who ripped a line drive just to the right of Lexington third baseman Beth Rutila's glove and down the left field line.
Lily Perkins then hit into a fielder's choice, enabling both runners to move up to second and third base. But when she needed it the most, Saveriano came up with a strikeout against senior Nikki Giatas to end the inning.
Billerica coach Patti Higgins said in that situation and others earlier in the game, her team wasn't able to get the critical hit that would have put a crucial run on the board.
"We just couldn't get the hit and they did," she said. "[Saveriano] shut us down when we needed a hit...We got people on with two outs, and we couldn't get the hit. She came back, fought, and sat us down."
Despite the loss, however, Higgins was thrilled with her team's season and run through the playoffs.
"Nobody thought we would be in this game," she said. "But we were confident that we'd be here."
Lexington will now face South champion Braintree on Tuesday at Martin Field for the Div. 1 EMass championship. The Wamps dispatched last year's Div. 1 state champ Taunton, 2-0, on Friday night.
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