By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Region – For certain, countless athletes at the high school level would be beyond thrilled to wrap their arms around a much-coveted District championship trophy, even just once in their four-year sports careers.
But the chance to achieve such lofty heights three times?
Such is the situation for Assabet Valley Regional Technical High softball co-captains Josie Burlingame, Morgan Foster and their teammates who stand more than a realistic chance to accomplish the trifecta before they don cap and gown as graduating seniors.
The Aztecs’ softball accomplishments are nearly off the charts when it comes to championships won in recent years. The program notched successive Central Mass. Division 3 District titles (2012-2014) and came just an eyelash away from a “four-peat” when they fell short losing in semifinal competition in 2015.
Now they are back once again with a roster in which many have tasted success and are hungry and anxious to return to the recent past when the good times were just that, and with an impressive 7-2 record to kick off the 2016 season, legitimate optimism is in no short supply.
“Everyone’s thinking team first. A lot of them have felt the success and want it again,” said eighth-year head coach Michael O’Brien, who is assisted by John Aramento, Ed O’Brien and team manager Ashley Boudreau. “Success is addicting. They know what it takes to get there and they’re trying to raise the younger girls because they’re a big part of the team and put them in a position to be successful. They know they have to stay together as a team and that’s why we try to keep things in focus.”
The team’s latest conquest, a 6-5 triumph over host West Boylston High on May 6, was a roller-coaster ride that went from a near-lock victory to a white-knuckle finish.
Assabet plated three runs in the opening frame with two outs on singles by Burlingame, Foster and Hanah Besaw that combined with a left field miscue and a pair of wild pitches by the Lions. Individual runs in the second, fourth and fifth innings gave the Aztecs a 6-0 lead, and with Foster tossing five innings of no-hit softball, one could almost hear team bus engines revving for a quick ride home.
But it in the sixth, a Lion uprising and some miscues by Assabet closed the gap to a narrow 6-5 advantage. It was here that Foster, all business in the circle, set down the side in the seventh and final inning to seal the win.
“I just didn’t want to get a loss in this game. I had to get this win,” said a determined Foster post-game. “We have to get rid of the mental errors. That’s our biggest area right now that we have to improve on. But we have a lot of great players on this team and great coaches that can teach us.”
“We have a good core group of girls on the team from past years. We have six freshmen this year so we have to mix them into everything. But we’re pretty comfortable with each other because most of us have played together for so long.”
“I’m hoping to make Districts for the fourth year in a row,” added Burlingame. “We have a pretty young team so it’s important to get a confidence boost. We’re still getting to know each other pretty much but we have a lot of players who are team players.”
Just how does this year’s team compare to those championship caliber squads of the recent past? Similar but different, answers O’Brien, who clearly has an energized squad that plays hard day in and day out.
“Our team is figuring out just who we are. We’ve had some great players come through but this year’s going to be a little different. We don’t have that big-hitting team so we’re going to have to do some different things. Everyone’s getting a chance to play and get at-bats. They all want to succeed; it’s just a matter of can they get it done.
“We’re going to have to cut down on strikeouts, put the ball in play. We’re not going to outscore a lot of teams. We try to hold them to four or five runs and if we can put them in that kind of situation, we’ll have a lot of good chances to win.”
Members of the 2016 Assabet Valley Regional Technical High varsity softball team are seniors Gabriella Eldredge (OF), Josie Burlingame (P/OF), Aary Francisco (P/OF), Megan O’Connell (C/IF); juniors Giselle Perez (OF), Morgan Foster (P/1B), Molly Manganaro (OF); sophomores Kayla Seymour (SS), Hanah Besaw (IF), Brianna Fontes (IF) and freshmen Hannah Nezuch (C/IF/OF), Trinity Grenier (P/IF), Alexis Atwood (P), Olivia Garcia (IF), Kally Selph (C/IF) and Ashley LeConti (1B/OF)