With strong pitching and timely hitting from Ava McLeod, AMSA softball advances to semifinals

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With strong pitching and timely hitting from Ava McLeod, AMSA softball advances to semifinals
The AMSA Eagles celebrate reaching the state semifinals. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

MARLBOROUGH – It was always going to be Ava McLeod.

The Advanced Math & Science Academy (AMSA) freshman – who has started for the Eagles’ varsity team since her seventh-grade year – has struck out nearly 200, tallied almost 100 hits, and is closing in on countless other athletic milestones. Whether on the mound or beside the plate, McLeod has produced for AMSA, and on Saturday afternoon, she delivered yet again.

In her team’s MIAA Division 4 quarterfinal match against the visiting No. 5 Abington Green Wave, McLeod had a 2RBI double and pitched seven innings of one-run softball to help her fourth-ranked AMSA Eagles win, 3-1, and reach the state semifinals for the first time in program history. The team will face top-seeded Joseph Case in that matchup, which has yet to be scheduled.

“Ava is an intense competitor. She gives 100 percent, she’s a great player,” AMSA Head Coach Jason Ayik said after the game. “She keeps the girls focused. The team has confidence in her. They feel like Ava is going to bring them to the promised land. And she has.”

With strong pitching and timely hitting from Ava McLeod, AMSA softball advances to semifinals
AMSA pitcher Ava McLeod hurls the ball toward home plate. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

The Eagles did all of their damage in the first inning. Madelyn Glynn, the team’s lead-off hitter, singled in her first plate appearance to open AMSA’s offense. The next three batters – freshman Brooke Laudate, McLeod, and senior captain Abigail Asman – hit three consecutive doubles, with McLeod’s extra-base hit driving in two runs. Later in the inning, Kathleen Galvin’s sacrifice fly put AMSA ahead 3-0. With an early lead, the team was able to settle into the game and relax, explained Ayik.

“It is always great to get off to a fast start. We have a great defense, we have a daily process that works on keeping our defense as strong as possible. When we get that lead, it puts pressure on the other team… It makes a big difference to our younger players, to feel a little more comfortable and take that pressure off,” he told the Community Advocate.

Although Abington scored once in the third inning, McLeod’s pitching performance washed out the Green Wave. Over seven innings of work, McLeod allowed just five hits, striking out five. Jess Blyth (2-3, 2B, 1B) and Calli Pineau (2-2, 3B, 1B) were bright spots for Abington, but the team struggled to hit McLeod when it mattered. McLeod set the final three Abington batters down quickly in the seventh, not allowing any semblance of a late rally.

With strong pitching and timely hitting from Ava McLeod, AMSA softball advances to semifinals
AMSA teammates Makayla Laudate (right) and Grace Galvin (left) ready themselves to bat. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

“It was really nice knowing that I had my team behind me… I just pitched the ball, and worked on doing my thing,” McLeod said. “It felt good. As a team, our school has never made it past the Sweet 16, so knowing that we’re starting a new journey is nice.”

A new journey indeed. As McLeod struck out the final batter, punching the team’s ticket to the semifinals, teammates gathered around her on the pitcher’s mound to celebrate. Soon enough, the trophy was raised and the “Final Four” banner was unfurled. While the athletes are individually talented, the Eagles said that teamwork was the key to their success.

This AMSA team is an energetic bunch, to be sure. There are dances between innings – some Eagles couldn’t help but participate in a between-innings “YMCA” dance while warming up, for instance – and teammates have wild handshake rituals. Though the team is young (the average Eagle is just a sophomore), AMSA has found ways to snap into focus, and, better yet, use their silliness and youthfulness to their advantage, teammates and coaches said.

With strong pitching and timely hitting from Ava McLeod, AMSA softball advances to semifinals
The AMSA dugout cheers for teammates. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

Pasta parties, “slime nights,” pool gatherings – they’ve only helped this AMSA team grow stronger.

“They’re like best friends. They’re like family, to be truthful. They spent all night yesterday at a pasta dinner having a great time. We try to find that balance between having fun and staying focused, but what I find is they play more relaxed when they’re out there dancing around. As a coach it’s a little different for me, but it works for them, and ultimately, this is about them. They’re having a great time and enjoying their high school days,” Ayik said.

“It’s been really exciting so far. We’re a really young team, but we’ve really stepped up and pulled it together this year. It’s been so much fun,” Asman, the lone senior in the Eagles lineup, said after the game. “We’re so close. We love hanging out off the field. We have a lot of pasta dinners… We have fun because it’s the best way to do it, but we know when to be serious.”

With strong pitching and timely hitting from Ava McLeod, AMSA softball advances to semifinals
AMSA sophomore Madelyn Glynn meets her coach at first base. (Photo/Evan Walsh)

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