Hopedale Softball Looking for its Fourth Straight Sectional Title

Christopher Tremblay, Staff Sports Writer
Issue Date: 
June, 2020
Article Body: 

Entering the 2020 season, the Hopedale softball team was looking to secure its fourth straight Division 3 Central Championship.
Having won the Sectionals over the last three years, the Blue Raiders were looking to get past the Semi Final round of the State Tournament, where they’ve fallen all three years at the hands of Turner Falls. While Hopedale may have been hoping to exercise the demons of the past, the Blue raiders couldn’t have expected what they were about to experience.
“It is always our goal to play as well as we can and make it into the tournament, win the Sectionals and then the States. It’s been pretty much the same thing over the eight years I’ve been here,” Hopedale Coach Shanna Lathrop said. “This season was going to be something that we have never had to deal with before.”
Playing in the Dual Valley Conference, Hopedale has always scheduled a season with schools not only in Division 3, but Division 1 and 2 as well to get ready for the tournament. The challenging schedule has shown to be the right move for the Blue Raiders as they have owned the Sectional Tournament but have not been able to get past the Semi Final round of the State Tournament.
While the girls were preparing for the season to get underway, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker mandated that everyone stay at home until May 4. With that said, the spring sports season was immediately put on hold.
“This was the easier round to deal with,” the Hopedale coach said. “The season would be cut down, but we still would have the opportunity to get back onto the field. It was going to be tough, but we had means to get through it.”
With the season on hold for the time being Lathrop knew that it was not going to be easy. First, she would only have a week, once the kids went back to school, to hold practices and tryouts before the shortened 12 game season got underway. Second, she had to find a way to keep the girls in shape and ready to play.
“We did a lot of bonding during that time,” she said. “We had a Google Zoom meeting, supplied the girls with virtual clinics where they could watch videos and strategies while keeping their minds focused on the game and staying positive for when we did open up.”
As the Blue Raiders continued to keep not only their skills but their minds as well sharp the news was only going to get worse and as May fourth loomed closer to becoming a reality, the girls soon found out the inevitable was about to happen. Baker eventually extended the stay at home recommendation until the end of the school year, which in all results spelled the end of the spring athletic seasons before they could actually start.
“The cancelling of the season was tough, especially on our two seniors (shortstop Rowe Murphy and Lena Swift, two of the three Hopedale captains for the upcoming season),” Lathrop said. “They are both super involved in the sport and this was their sport. Having no season brings no closure to their high school softball careers.”
Although the Blue Raiders had lost five seniors to graduation, a junior who graduated early and the team’s third basemen, who transferred to Florida, Lathrop still had faith in her team getting back to the State Tournament for the fourth straight year.
“We may have only had three returning starters (juniors Bianca Fitch and Carly Smith to go along with Murphy, but you never say never,” the Hopedale Coach said. “These girls had worked hard while developing bonds with the new players and the skill level was there to take us back to the tournament.”
For the seniors not being able to finish out their high school careers on the field leaves a lingering feeling; would they have been able to win 4 Sectional Championships in their four years? It also leaves a lingering feeling to would this be the year they could get past Turner Falls and have a shot at the State Title. Hopedale will never know.
“These girls grew up playing this game for Hopedale since the seventh grade and just like that it’s over,” the Coach said. “we’re going to try to find time to get these kids to play one last time, but its not the ideal situation with how things are playing out. It’s very emotional.”
Come next fall, Lathrop sees a very interesting situation forming as it will be about two years since the team last stepped onto a softball field come next spring.
“Not playing this year we were not able to fill the vacant spots left by our seniors and we’re going to loss two more. Who is going to step up to take control o the openings and who will be our leaders next spring,” Lathrop said. “Luckily, we had a very strong junior class this year, but it will still be interesting to see who is ready to a take on a key role not having stepped on a field in almost two years.”