Div. 4 softball: Ella Schaeffer tosses gem, South Hadley blanks Cohasset for spot in Round of 16 (PHOTOS)

South Hadley’s Ara Powers (15) hits a single against Cohasset in the bottom of the fifth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Ara Powers (15) hits a single against Cohasset in the bottom of the fifth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the third inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the third inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Sophia Butler (9) lays down a bunt against Cohasset in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Sophia Butler (9) lays down a bunt against Cohasset in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the third inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the third inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the seventh inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the seventh inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the seventh inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the seventh inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the first inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley pitcher Ella Schaeffer throws against Cohasset in the top of the first inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Karli Carmody (10) drives in a run with a fields choice against Cohasset in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Karli Carmody (10) drives in a run with a fields choice against Cohasset in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Ara Powers (15) scores against Cohasset in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Ara Powers (15) scores against Cohasset in the bottom of the fourth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley baserunner Erin Bullough (4) slides into home plate to score as Ella Schaeffer (14) cheers from the on deck circle in the bottom of the fourth inning against Cohasset on Monday during the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley baserunner Erin Bullough (4) slides into home plate to score as Ella Schaeffer (14) cheers from the on deck circle in the bottom of the fourth inning against Cohasset on Monday during the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley’s Erin Bullough (4) celebrates after scoring with Ella Schaeffer (14) and Sophia Butler (9) in the bottom of the fourth inning against Cohasset on Monday during the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley’s Erin Bullough (4) celebrates after scoring with Ella Schaeffer (14) and Sophia Butler (9) in the bottom of the fourth inning against Cohasset on Monday during the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley baserunner Erin Bullough (4) sprints down the third base line to score against Cohasset in the bottom of the fifth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley baserunner Erin Bullough (4) sprints down the third base line to score against Cohasset in the bottom of the fifth inning Monday of the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

South Hadley head coach Junior Perez talks with his players in the bottom of the fifth inning against Cohasset on Monday during the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley.

South Hadley head coach Junior Perez talks with his players in the bottom of the fifth inning against Cohasset on Monday during the Division 4 Round of 32 game in South Hadley. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By GARRETT COTE

Staff Writer

Published: 06-03-2024 8:26 PM

SOUTH HADLEY — When Ella Schaeffer is on, the No. 10 South Hadley softball team is extremely difficult to beat.

Well, all signs Monday pointed to the Tigers’ junior having one of those games right away, as she fanned the first two No. 23 Cohasset hitters she faced to reach 750 career strikeouts.

That was only the beginning.

Schaeffer struck out at least two batters in every inning en route to a 16-strikeout performance to help South Hadley defeat the Skippers 3-0 in the MIAA Division 4 Round of 32 – securing the Tigers’ first playoff win since at least 2007.

After jumping up into a more competitive league following a dominant run in the Suburban League West in 2023 (which led to a league title), South Hadley won the Valley Wheel in 2024. It also challenged itself with the top-notch programs in western Mass. to help prepare for this moment.

“We had some goals at the beginning of the year that we made when we met in February,” Tigers head coach Junior Perez said. “We wanted to win league, we wanted to win a tournament game, and when we got in a better league everyone thought we wouldn’t be able to. I told them, ‘We can be this team.’ We intentionally went after Westfield, Turners Falls, Pittsfield, so that when you get into this tournament, you’re ready.”

The first three innings went scoreless, with Schaeffer striking out the side in the third. She added two more Ks in the fourth to set up South Hadley with the top of its lineup in the bottom of the frame.

Erin Bullough drew a walk and took second on a passed ball. Ara Powers then stepped up and delivered a shot up the middle to drive Bullough in – the eventual game-winning run. Two batters later, Sophia Butler singled Powers over to third, followed by a Karli Carmody fielder’s choice that brought Powers to the plate.

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“We did the little things today,” Perez said. “Of course it helps having Ella, but we played small ball, we hit with runners on base, we made all the plays in the field. We did what we had to do to win a playoff game.”

Powers, South Hadley’s senior catcher, went 3-for-3 at the dish with an RBI and a run scored. She also made several good plays behind the plate.

After dealing with an injury all season (which she continued to play through, missing only two innings this spring), Powers was thrilled to deliver a strong performance when her team needed her most. 

“It feels amazing to have a big game, especially because I’m injured right now too,” Powers said. “Every game is really a push to get through, so it feels really good to do something big for this team.”

The two runs were plenty for Schaeffer, who made quick work in the fifth to bring the hot Tigers offense back up.

With two down and nobody on in the bottom of the inning, Bullough drew another walk to start a two-out rally. Powers then connected for her third hit of the evening to push her classmate over to second. Schaeffer then grounded one up the middle, Cohasset’s pitcher fielded it and tossed it over to first.

When the first basemen dropped it, Bullough sprinted home to make it 3-0 in favor of the hosts. The seniors were doing it all for Perez’s bunch.

“You gotta have the senior leadership, and our senior catcher and senior second basemen had big games,” Perez said. “Ara had a big game, Erin had two walks and scored twice. Our veterans came up clutch.”

Once again, Schaeffer closed the door on any Cohasset threat. She gave up just three hits and walked no batters in one of her best outings of the season. 

The hard-throwing right-hander retired the Skippers in order with three punchouts in the sixth, and started the seventh with two more – making six straight across three innings. Carmody caught a fly ball to center to seal the deal. The relationship between Schaeffer and Powers, who is only in her second year catching, is one of the many reasons the Tigers are a top 10 seed and still alive in the Division 4 tournament.

“Ella is amazing,” Powers said. “It’s not just her pitching either. She’s really nice and carries everyone and keeps us positive. She’s one of my best friends and I love her. She makes me comfortable behind the plate, and it’s only my second year catching. We couldn’t do this without her. I feel like it hasn’t really set in yet how big of an accomplishment [winning a state tournament game is yet].”

South Hadley (14-7) now heads to No. 7 Amesbury in the Round of 16 on Wednesday at 4 p.m. When Perez took over as head coach two years ago, this is the exact type of success he had in mind.

It’s all coming to fruition this spring and beyond.

“We live to play one more day, hopefully longer, but at least this group is leading something big here,” Perez said. “They’ve got two league titles, they won a state playoff game at home – this never happens here. Now we gotta keep it going in the future.”