ITEM PHOTO BY KATIE MORRISON
Casey Fraher singled in the second inning for St. Mary’s.
By HAROLD RIVERA
LYNN — Coming into the season, St. Mary’s softball coach Paige Licata made it clear that her team was hungry to avenge its 4-0 loss to Austin Prep in the 2016 Division 3 North final. The loss to the Cougars sat in the back of the Spartans minds all the way to Thursday’s Division 3 North semifinal at Breed Middle School. Unfortunately for St. Mary’s, the sour memories will last a little longer.
The No. 2 Cougars blanked No. 3 St. Mary’s, 2-0, to secure a spot in Saturday’s final against No. 1 Latin Academy at Endicott. The Spartans, on the other hand, end the season at 20-3.
“I told the girls that I’m proud of them and the season they had,” Licata said. “Playing Austin Prep twice in a season is tough and having to see them a third time makes it even tougher. I’m proud because none of them gave up and even until the last out, none of the girls put their heads down.”
In a game that was billed as a pitchers’ duel between two top-notch aces in Mia Nowicki and Austin Prep’s Logan MacDonald, the Spartans knew Thursday’s contest would come down to the wire.
“Great pitching and neither team made a mistake,” Licata said. “It came down to who ended up squeezing a play and unfortunately it wasn’t us. That’s a testament to both teams, this game proved how talented we both are.”
Although the game was played at Breed, St. Mary’s, the lower seed, was the road team.
Nowicki led off the top of the first inning with a double and Gia Santaniello’s sac bunt advanced pinch-runner Ashley Sullivan to third base. MacDonald fanned the next two batters to escape the jam, providing an early indication of what type of game it was set to be.
“Everybody knew it was going to be a battle,” Licata said. “Going six innings scoreless, on both sides, is impressive.”
Lauren Sablone led the bottom of the frame with a double and advanced to third on a sac-bunt. This time it was Nowicki’s turn to work out of a jam, and she did, to keep the game scoreless.
Through the next four innings the Spartans were only able to notch two hits, a pair of singles by Casey Fraher, in the second inning, and Talia Smaller, in the fifth. The Spartans made solid contact throughout the afternoon but Austin Prep’s defense didn’t falter.
“They have phenomenal players,” Licata said. “We had to beat them outright to get a hit today.”
Although the Cougars were flawless defensively, St. Mary’s made its share of plays.
Francesca Frelick led off the bottom of the fourth with a towering fly ball to deep centerfield but Christina Nowicki read it perfectly for the out.
Lauren Sablone tripled with two outs in the fifth, but Nowicki made a solid play in the circle on a comebacker to end the threat.
“Christina’s catch in centerfield, that could’ve been a double or a triple,” Licata said. “Casey made a couple phenomenal stops at second on hard hit balls. Mia made a hard play in the circle. There were plenty of times they could’ve scored and we held our own.”
Austin Prep plated the game’s only two runs in the sixth. Caroline Sablone bunted for a single, bringing Frelick home from third for the 1-0 lead. Two batters later, Rebecca Lowe drew a walk with the bases loaded and Caroline Sablone scored to make it 2-0.
St. Mary’s looked to rally in the seventh but MacDonald sent the Spartans down in order for the 2-0 win.
“I couldn’t have asked them to play any better,” Licata said. “There’s nothing I can go back on and say ‘we should’ve done this’ and that’s what you like to say as a coach. There was nothing we could’ve done better today.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t us that had the break this time but they played their hearts out and I’m proud of them for that.”