NORTH ADAMS -- Four All-MASCAC selections, a Co-Rookie of the Year and the coach of the year.
Those are the accolades the MCLA softball team has garnered so far. Now, the Trailblazers target the award they want most: a conference championship.
"It’s been a long time and we’ve worked really hard," senior Kendra Hobbs said. "This is a great group of girls, and I think it would be amazing if we could pull through and win it."
Freshman Rachel Quackenbush was selected as a Co-Rookie of the Year and is joined on the All-MASCAC First Team by first-year player Amanda Meczywor. Senior Megan Boyer and freshman Michaela DiNicola are on the second team. Rounding out MCLA’s honors is head coach Mike Ameen, who was voted Coach of the Year.
"That was the best part," Ameen said. "Four of the MCLA girls on the MASCAC teams, that was awesome."
The Trailblazers (10-4 MASCAC, 19-20 overall) host Worcester State today at 3 p.m. in the second round, which begins the double-elimination portion of the tournament. Regardless of what happens, the Trailblazers will travel to Bridgewater State to determine their fate.
MCLA split the season series with Worcester (10-4, 22-15), but won the tie-break because of its season sweep of top seed Bridgewater (11-3, 22-14). The No. 2 seed gave them the first-round bye and home game in the second round. It’s the first home playoff game since 2001 for MCLA.
"It’s exciting. I can’t wait. All week I’ve been like sitting in class ‘is it Friday yet?’ " Megan Boyer said. "Our athletic department has been doing a good job of trying to promote the game. Every person I walk by on campus I’m like ‘game, 3 o’clock Friday.’ "
MCLA enters today’s game on a 9-2 run, which includes winning their last six conference games. The Trailblazers have outscored their opponents 63-26 during that span. It’s a stark contrast from the season as a whole, where MCLA was outscored, 168-156. As a team, MCLA is hitting .330.
"Basically, we just get people on and we get the key hits," DiNicola said.
The offense might be averaging seven runs per game over the final 11 games of the regular season, but pitching is the strength.
"It seems to be coming together," Ameen said. "It’s a little exciting to see it all start to gel at the right exact time."
Quackenbush, who was named Co-Rookie of the Year as a freshman, has carried the load for MCLA this season, pitching 95 innings (34 more than anyone else on the team). During the final 11 games, she pitched four complete games and pitched in seven for a total of 40 innings. She was taken out in the fourth inning of both Mass. Maritime games because MCLA was well in front and ended up winning in five. She has a 1.33 ERA.
Ameen said he’s going to lean heavily on his freshman pitcher, but with the possibility of five games over three days, he knows his pitching depth will be key.
The pitchers know they have quality arms in the bullpen, too.
"I think it’s good because no one pitcher has to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders here," Meczywor said. "I think that’s important because if one pitcher feels the need to pitch every single game, then they’re going to have too much pressure on themselves, and they’re not going to be able to pitch to their full capabilities."