TAUNTON — The mystique of Shannon Smith was daunting. The reality was even more daunting.
The Milford High senior pitcher, a three-time state Gatorade Player of the Year bound for the University of Kentucky next season, struck out nine of the first 10 Central Catholic batters she faced in last night’s Division 1 semifinal battle. But the one that got away, on Leslie Moore’s second-inning single, gave the Raiders hope. Feeling gradually more comfortable at the plate, Central pieced together a sixth-inning rally that fell just short, allowing the Scarlet Hawks to escape with a 3-0 victory.
Now at 24-1, Milford will play the winner of today’s Marlboro-Agawam semifinal on Saturday at Worcester State. Central finishes its season at 20-5.
“I don’t know if we ever really did (get past Smith’s mystique),” said Raiders head coach Stacy Ciccolo. “I’ve heard so much about her, and then to see her in person ... she has such great control, I felt she had pinpoint accuracy.
“We did the best we could to prepare for her. We turned up the (pitching) machine, we hit at short distances, we tried to work on corners, but she’s very good. We just wanted to try to put the ball in play and see if we could make anything happen.”
Those circumstances were rare as Smith fanned 17 including her 1,200th strikeout of her four-year career. However, she did yield a season-high three walks which set up the Raiders for its one shot at glory.
With one out in the sixth inning, leadoff hitter Krista Maloney cracked a laser that one-hopped the center field fence, ending as a standup double. After Ally Cavanaugh sacrificed her to third, Smith issued free passes to pitcher Olivia Antczak and Leslie Moore, the third time she reached base.