LAWRENCE – Thursday afternoon didn’t begin well for MacKenzie Yirrell. But the freshman hurler quickly found her footing, and Methuen secured itself yrt another winning season.

Host Central Catholic threw the first punch with a four-run first inning, making Yirrell throw 36 pitches. But the young righthander never allowed a runner past second the rest of the way while her mates torched a couple of Raider pitchers for a 16-4 victory.

The win assured the 18th consecutive winning regular season for the Rangers, who are 8-5 with games against Central and Lowell remaining before postseason play.

“We have a lot of young players on this team, and I thought they gelled really well today,” Methuen coach Jason Smith said. “They were a little shaky early, but they hung with MacKenzie and she hung tough herself.

“I thought she showed a lot of heart out there. It’s a really good step in the right direction for her. I’m proud how she stayed with it.”

After the Rangers staked Yirrell a 2-0 lead on an RBI double by Jenny Grelle, who then scored on a double steal, Central immediately bounced back with three singles, two walks and a fielder’s choice to take the 4-2 lead. Katie Fox drove in two and Maddie Guy one with back-to-back singles.

Yirrell, however, took advantage of a second-inning double play grounder that erased a lead-off single, allowing just one hit the final five innings.

“I was definitely a little nervous, but I knew I could come back and do what I can do,” Yirrell said. “I put the ball where I can and made the best of it. I think I found what I usually do, and then settled in and played the game the way I knew I could. It was great having the kind of offense I did. It’s great having the girls backing me up.”

The freshman ran her record to 3-1, allowing five hits and striking out six.

“Her and our other freshman Ilene (Rickard) have both thrown really well,” said shortstop Steph Tardugno, who handled four of the 10 ground-ball outs induced by Yirrell. “We’ve been reiterating backing them up in the field, talking to them every pitch and making sure they have a positive attitude.”

Tardugno, who scored four runs and drove in four, was a big part of Methuen’s offensive explosion that scored seven in the third, two in the fourth and sixth and three more in the seventh.

Grelle, Makenna Donovan and Emma Daly each had singles in a third inning that included a couple of walks and wild pitches and a fielder’s choice RBI by Kiele Coleman. But the biggest blow was Tardugno’s bases-clearing double to make the lead 9-4.

“We were really excited to get the bats going,” said Tardugno, who reached base each of her six plate appearances with four walks and two hits. “I think we did a great job with timely hitting with people in scoring position and getting them in. We fed off that.”

Also coming up big for the Rangers were Grelle (3-for-5, two runs, two RBIs), Donovan (2-5) and No. 9 hitter Emma Daly (2-4, three runs). Every starter had at least one hit and six players drove in at least one.

Central (5-7) has three games remaining, hoping to find momentum before the postseason.

“I don’t feel we’re doing anything well right now,” Raider coach Stacy Ciccolo said. “But our biggest problem is we’re super inconsistent … We’re young, but that’s not an excuse. We should be better. I have high expectations and we’re not playing well, and it shows.”

Methuen 16, Central Catholic 4

Methuen (16): Steph Tardugno ss 2-4-2, Emily Spina cf 3-1-1, Thyanais Santiago ph 0-0-0, Jenny Grelle 1b 5-2-3, Lea Lynch ph 1-0-0, Makenna Donovan lf 5-1-2, Victoria Santiago ph 1-0-0, Avry Nelson c 4-1-1, Brooke Tardugno dp 3-1-1, Kiele Coleman 2b 5-2-1, Ariana Baez 3b 4-1-1, Emma Daly rf 4-3-2. Totals 37-16-14

Central (4): Julia Malowitz 1b/p 4-0-1, Ava Ianessa 2b 3-1-0, Hayley Rapaglia p/ss 4-1-1, Laci Swift lf 4-1-0, Katie Fox c 2-1-1, Mddie Guy rf 3-0-1, Olivia Boucher 3b 3-0-1, Shruth Kandru ss/1b 1-0-0, Audra Gearin ph 0-0-0, Brianna John cf 1-0-0, Ava Shea cf 2-0-0. Totals 28-4-5

RBI: Methuen – S.Tardugno 4, Grelle 2, Donovan, Nelson, Coleman, Baez, Daly, T.Santiago; CC – Fox 2, Guy, Boucher

WP: MacKenzie Yirrell; LP: Rapaglia

Methuen (8-5): 2 0 7 2 0 2 3 — 16

Central Catholic (5-7): 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 —  4

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