By Joyce Erekson
The 21st annual John G. Holland Memorial Softball Tournament is in the books and once again. St. Mary’s has laid claim to the title.
Senior Casey Fraher dropped a two-run double down the right field line in the top of the sixth inning to break a scoreless tie. She then scored on an error to lead the Spartans to a 3-0 win over Swampscott in the championship game.
The first five innings featured a pitchers’ duel between two seniors, Mia Nowicki and the Big Blue’s Hannah Leahy. As good as Leahy (7 hits, 7 strikeouts) was (and she was very good) Nowicki was untouchable. The St. Mary’s pitcher struck out 16 and allowed only one hit (a single by Leahy in the first inning). Her performance earned her the tournament Most Valuable Player award.
As the innings clicked away with neither team able to get on the board, the question became one of who would blink first. Spartan first baseman Tori DiCenso provided the answere when, with one out in the sixth, she ripped a double down the left field line. She went to third on catcher Emily Stephenson’s single and both runs (Ashley Sullivan was pinch running for Stephenson) came around on Fraher’s hit. The infield error on a ball hit by Christina Nowicki brought in Fraher.
St. Mary’s (18-2) has now won the tournament seven of the last eight years. Ironically, the last time the Spartans didn’t win was 2015. Swampscott (11-9) took the trophy home that year with Leahy, then a sophomore, doing the pitching. Last year St. Mary’s barely escaped a first-round game against Swampscott, winning 1-0 to earn a meeting with Classical in the championship game. St. Mary’s won, 6-4.
“Last year when we played them (the Big Blue) it was a 1-0 game. When you have good teams you always expect a battle,” St. Mary’s coach Paige Licata said. “With the Holland tournament being what it is, there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of people. The environment is kind of intense. You’re always expecting this type of game.”
Swampscott coach Gary Moran said he was proud of how his team played, especially considering St. Mary’s and Classical have a 33 wins between them.
“Our pitching and defense kept us in there,” Moran said. “Hannah pitched unbelievable last night (vs. Classical) and again tonight.”
Leahy, who played first base as a freshman before taking over the pitching duties her sophomore year, will be going to the University of Rochester, which plays in Division 3.
“As she goes, we go. At bat. On the mound. She’s our leader. She knows she has to be on her game,” Moran said. “She brings it every single day.”
Moran said the goal against Nowicki was to just put the ball in play, jump on the early pitches. He said what makes the St. Mary’s pitcher so tough is her command.
“She doesn’t miss her spots,” he said.
Licata admitted she was getting nervous as the innings rolled by and her team wasn’t scoring.
“You let it go on (too long) and eventually someone’s (day) is going to end in a bad scenario,” she said. “I wish we had found a way earlier. Sooner is always better. We’re going to work on that in the post-season.”
In the opening round of the tournament on Saturday, Swampscott pulled out a dramatic 2-0 win over Classical in nine innings. St. Mary’s easily handled English, 15-1 in five innings. In Sunday’s consolation game, Classical defeated English, 7-1. The Rams (15-3) scored five runs in the second inning to put the Bulldogs in a hole early. English finished the season with two wins.