TAUNTON — When the No. 5 seed Norton High softball team boarded its bus to travel to Taunton High for the MIAA Division 2 South Sectional final on Saturday, Lancers coach Wade Lizotte knew his squad felt good.
However, even Lizotte could not have predicted the dominating effort that Norton put together against No. 6 seed Fairhaven High.
Junior Sofia Knopf struck out 12 while the Lancers totaled 11 hits and made crucial defensive plays in a one-sided, 10-1 victory to claim their third South Sectional title since 2015.
Norton (19-4 ) advances to the Div. 2 state semifinal against North Sectional champion Gloucester Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Martin Field in Lowell.
“It’s a dream come true,” Norton shortstop Destiny McGrath said following her two-hit, three-RBI performance. “No one expected us to be here and we just proved everyone wrong and did our business.”
McGrath was one of two Lancers with multiple hits, along with senior Madison Correia. Both McGrath and Correia connected on home runs for Norton, who had all nine players earn at least one hit.
Correia broke the game open by tattooing a two-strike pitch into the woods beyond left-center field in the fifth inning to give Norton a 6-1 lead.
McGrath, who homered to left to lead off the third inning, stepped up to the plate in the sixth with the bases loaded and delivered a two-run single to center field, with two more runs scoring on the play due to an error in the outfield. It gave the Lancers a commanding 10-1 advantage.
“The last two days of practice we spent a lot of time hitting,” Lizzotte said. “We knew they could hit the ball so we wanted to make sure we could match them if we got into a slugfest.”
Instead, Knopf commanded the circle to go with the defensive play behind her. Knopf retired the side in order in both the first and sixth innings. She retired the side on strikeouts in the second, third and seventh innings.
The Lancers got out of a jam in the fifth inning, leading 4-1. Fairhaven had its first two two batters of the inning reach, one on a bunt single and another on an error. Knopf got the next batter to pop out to her. Catcher Nicole Grainger then made a diving grab on an attempted bunt in foul territory before second baseman Olivia Menyo hustled down a fly ball to the right-field line for the third out of the inning. Menyo’s play saved a run as the runners were going on contact.
The Blue Devils stranded single base runners in the second, third, fourth, seventh, and a pair in the fifth. Fairhaven opened the second inning with a double to the center-field wall, but Knopf struck out the next three batters, including winning an eight-pitch at-bat for the first out of the frame. The Blue Devils had a runner in scoring position three times in the contest, but never were able to get them home.
The Lancers opened the game with a three-run first inning. Grainger slapped a two-run single to score McGrath (hit by pitch) and Menyo (single). Erica Ransom then drove in Correia on a fielder's choice.
McGrath scored the lone run of the third on her solo homer. Correia’s two-run shot in the fifth scored Knopf as well. The Lancers had the lead-off batter aboard in the first, fourth and fifth innings.
McGrath’s bases-clearing single in the sixth scored Julia Alves (single), Abby Smigielski (bunt single) and Knopf (fielder’s choice).
“It’s surreal. It’s really unbelievable,” Lizzotte said. “The story of this season with these kids, it’s just we weren’t supposed to do this. Last year, we had the best team on paper and these guys just came out with this will to want to continue the program moving forward. They just came together as a team all season long and we just kept getting better and stronger.
“This particular group was ready to turn the page and write their own story, which was kind of cool,” Lizzotte said. “That’s been my driving force since the beginning. This is their story, this particular team. It’s up to (them) how it’s going to end. And they don’t want it to end.”