Gallery: Tewksbury Softball Tournament Bound [5 Images] Click any image to expand.
Like the old saying about death and taxes, if there’s one thing you can count on around Tewksbury Memorial High School every spring it’s that the TMHS girl’s softball team will find a way to qualify for the state tournament.
Despite having only two seniors returning to his 2014 squad, veteran coach Leo “Doc” DiRocco has guided his young team to a 14-4 record so far this season, and last week the Redmen qualified for their 19th consecutive appearance in the MIAA state championship tournament.
TMHS has rung up five straight victories over the last two weeks, including notable wins over Central Catholic and Chelmsford, and the Redmen have a chance to capture the 2014 Merrimack Valley Conference championship if they can get past Chelmsford again on Friday.
With six freshmen on the varsity roster and four in the starting line-up, it’s a position DiRocco really didn’t expect to be in at this point in the season.
“I never go into any year not expecting to win,” said DiRocco, who is in his 25th season at TMHS. “But when you’ve got as many freshmen as we have, they young kids have to learn how to win the close ones before you can be competitive. We’re lucky we’ve got two great senior leaders on this team, and they’ve brought the younger kids a long way. We lost a couple games we should have won earlier in the year, but lately, we’ve been playing pretty good softball.”
Those two great senior leaders are shortstop Brooke Hardy and starting pitcher Shannon McLaughlin, both of whom were recently named to the Merrimack Valley Conference All-Conference team. Hardy, who will play Division 1 college softball at Jacksonville (Fla.) University next year, has been a starter in the Tewksbury infield since the first game of her freshman season. She has been an MVC All-Conference selection for three straight years.
McLaughlin, who will play at Division 2 St. Anselm’s next year, has been the team’s top pitcher since her sophomore season, and has compiled a 38-12 career record so far. She was recently named the 2014 MVC Player of The Year.
“With those two (Hardy and McLaughlin), it’s been like having two extra coaches this year,” DiRocco said. “They’ve set some great examples for the younger kids. They’re always willing to work with the freshmen, or whoever needs help. They’re both intense, hard working kids and it’s rubbed off on the other kids.”
Hardy, who is batting over .450 this season, has a knack for getting on base that DiRocco says hasn’t been matched by many players in his long tenure.
“She’s a great slap hitter, she can drive it for power, and when she gets on base she’s got great speed so she’s always a threat to steal,” DiRocco said. “But the thing about her is her intensity. She’s one of the most intense players I’ve ever had.”
McLaughlin, who also hits for power and for average, battled back from a broken hand suffered during her sophomore season to become one of the league’s most dominant pitchers over the past two years. On Tuesday, she shutout Peabody, 12-0, for her 14th win.
“She’s got something like four one-hitters and two or three two-hitters this year,” DiRocco said of McLaughlin. “I don’t think she’s given up more than two runs in the last five games. She’s been a dominant pitcher since she was a sophomore.”
McLaughlin and Hardy are joined by three other upperclassmen in the starting line-up. Catcher Jess Silva, second baseman Anna Sessa and left fielder Erin Walsh are all juniors.
Kirsten Dick, the only sophomore in the starting line-up, plays third base. The freshmen starters are Kayla Von Kahle at first base, Marissa Doherty in center field, Adrianna Favreau in right field and designated hitter Teagan Trant.
“We really got lucky with this group of freshmen,” DiRocco said. “They’ve stepped right in and filled some big shoes.”
DiRocco would like nothing more than to see his two seniors cap their careers with an MVC championship, and a deep run into the state tournament.
“We’re gonna have to rely on a lot of young kids,” DiRocco said. “But like I told them all recently, after 10 games, you’re no longer a freshman. They’ve learned a lot and they’re starting to get it, so I like our chances.”
Both Hardy and McLaughlin agreed.
“There’s a special tradition here,” McLaughlin said. “You’re expected to win. And I think all the girls, especially the younger girls, have really stepped up this year.
“Just like, coaching them up and helping them grow has helped us grow,” Hardy said. “Being leaders on such a young team was hard at first, but I definitely think we’ve become a tight knit team.”
“We haven’t really talked about (the state tournament) much yet, because with a young team you have to take it inning-by-inning and make sure everybody stays focused,” McLaughlin said. “But if we keep taking that approach we should do okay.”