By Dave Dyer
---- — The ever impressive offense of the Central Catholic softball team will get its ultimate test at 7 p.m. today (weather permitting) at Taunton High School against Division 1 South champion Milford and its ace pitcher, Shannon Smith.
Milford (23-1) is the defending state champion and Smith is a major reason why. She’s a three-time Gatorade Player of the Year and the consensus best player in the state.
In the playoffs thus far, the University of Kentucky-bound Smith has not given up a run and she’s been virtually unhittable. In the south championship game against previously unbeaten Bridgewater-Raynham, she had nine strikeouts and was in command the whole way. And, in the 7-0 win, she was on base four times with three hits, one of which was a three-run homer.
Smith’s numbers are stunning. Last year, when Milford was 25-0, she had an ERA of 0.08 and she struck out 359 batters in 167 innings while walking just 29. She also hit .462.
And, from the start, Smith has kept it up this year. In her first six starts she had four no-hitters, and her ERA is once again miniscule. She holds the state record for strikeouts, currently at 1,163.
If anyone can get to Smith, it may be the Raiders (20-4), whose bats have been red-hot in the playoffs. They’ve scored 40 runs in four games and gotten contributions from virtually everyone in their lineup.
A key to the offense has definitely been the return of Krista Maloney, the junior centerfielder and leadoff batter who suffered a concussion late in the season. Back for the tournament, she’s gone 7 for 18 with a home run and eight RBIs.
Sophomore third baseman Karoline Leavitt, meanwhile, is 7 for 16 with six RBIs, first baseman Leslie Moore is 6 for 15, pitcher Olivia Antczak is 8 for 14 and unsung outfielder Meg Sears has gone 5 for 14 including two huge RBIs hits in the North semifinal 10-inning classic. There have been few easy outs in Central’s lineup.
Against Smith, Central will need to make contact and — because of her excellent control — go after good pitches early in the count.
Today’s winner will face the Central-West semifinal between Marlboro and Agawam Saturday at Worcester State.