By John Orrell, Contributing Writer
Worcester / Marlborough — Marlborough High School (MHS) varsity softball head coach Kyle Wescott was under no false illusions, no expectations other than knowing that one of the region’s top hurlers awaited when his seventh-seed Panthers locked horns with second-seed Doherty High at Worcester State University’s Rockwood Field on June 3 in Central Division 1 quarterfinals.
Highlander pitching standout Payton Sylvester has had opposing hitters tangled in knots for the most part as the season progressed, that claim buttressed by her 12-win, 3-loss record that includes a blinding 120 strikeouts in 89 innings and a miniscule 1.01 ERA.
But Marlborough had one of the best around as well in senior Liv Larson (10 wins, 7 losses, 115 strikeouts, 115 innings, 2.25 ERA) and this matchup would be, as expected, a bona fide pitchers’ duel among two of the area’s best. Both pitchers were sharp and focused but Sylvester just a fraction more as Doherty upended the Panthers hopes for an extended playoff run with a 6-0 blanking. Marlborough concludes its season with a record of 11-11.
“We knew this season that we were a very solid team when Liv was on the mound and we had our best defense behind her,” said Wescott whose team defeated Fitchburg High 13-1 in opening round play 48 hours earlier. “We can hit the ball and we felt confident coming in to today. A lot of the girls said before the game that we were going to get the win today and even two runs down we knew we were right there.
“Liv has been dynamite all year and I knew going into this game it was going to be a pitchers’ duel. She pitched great today and unfortunately a couple of errors extended innings for her and that hurt us.”
Marlborough threatened in the opening frame when freshman Abby Larson smacked a two-out triple into the leftfield corner but was unable to come around. From there it was all Sylvester who went on to strike out a dozen Panthers while scattering just three singles.
Liv Larson, for her part, was strong fanning seven Highlanders, three in succession in the second frame. Larson also worked out of trouble in the first, fourth and fifth innings. Marlborough’s defense managed to execute a rare 2-6-2 caught-stealing putout in the fifth that was the team’s defensive highlight of the afternoon.
Eight seniors comprise the 2017 roster which was a boost to the team’s leadership. All played a vital role and were strong contributors who will be missed when the 2018 campaign rolls around.
“This is truly a fighting team. With eight seniors we had a lot of experience this year,” Wescott explained. “Even when we were down 2-0 in the sixth, they truly believed that we were still going to win the game. Errors sometime got us this year and we had a couple today that cost us. You have to play almost a perfect game against a team like that. Payton’s a great pitcher and she was awesome today.
“With the experience of the seniors, I didn’t have to do a lot of the teaching things that you sometimes have to. A lot of it was fine-tuning skills but the experience they have helped us bounce back from last year (7-11 record) but we had quite a few of these girls on the team two years ago when we had a pretty good run before we ran into the eventual state champions (St. Peter-Marian).”
Season-endings can come quickly in high school sports and can carry a volume of disappointment, particularly for the seniors, some of whom will move on to collegiate softball.
“Unfortunately losing today was tough,” said Wescott. “I said to them that at some point the season ends and it never feels good and today was our day. I told them that some will go on to play in college and the underclassmen are coming back to play some more. It’s important that they remember the good times and the fun that they had with each other.”
Members of the 2017 Marlborough High varsity softball team are seniors Kim Konar, Julia Brooks, Jillian Petrie, Liv Larson, Katie Buroni, Meghan Taylor, Kayley Cote, Alyssa Monti; juniors Sarah Popivchak, Alyssa Saunders, Cambrie Badavas; sophomores Emma Coye, Liv Kamataris and freshmen Abby Larson, Amy MacGlashing and Sarah Orentlich.