As the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared from Rockport's dramatic 4-3 walk-off victory against Whittier Tech on Tuesday, the Vikings have a daunting task at hand in today's Division 3 North Softball semifinals match-up against No. 6 St. Mary's (2:30 p.m., Martin Field, Lowell).
The Spartans enter the contest as the reigning 2011 Division 3 North champions and have been Division 3 North champions every year since 2008. En route to their 2011 title, St. Mary's met Rockport in the first round of the playoffs and walked away with a convincing 16-6 victory. Their remarkable run also includes Division 3 State Championships in 2009 and 2010.
Considering this is the furthest that Rockport has ever advanced in the postseason, today's match-up is a classic "David vs. Goliath" showdown.
While Rockport has narrowly dodged elimination in their previous two games, the Spartans have cruised in their two playoff games against No. 22 Winthrop and No. 3 Marian. They disposed of Winthrop with ease 12-2 and then drubbed Marian 10-1. On the contrary, Rockport has barely eluded defeat with back to back 4-3 victories over No. 15 North Shore Tech and No. 7 Whittier. Trailing 3-2 in the seventh inning against Whittier, senior captain Amanda Chalmers drilled a 2 RBI walk-off single to save the Vikings season.
Like Rockport, the strongest part of St. Mary's game is its offense. They feature a potent middle of the order combination with junior pitcher Brooke L'Abbe and junior utility infielder Kaleigh Finigan. L'Abbe is leader of the Spartans, as she has only given up 3 runs on the mound in the playoffs while clubbing a 2-run bomb in their victory over Marian.
Rockport's ace and Cape Ann League Division 3 Player of the Year Kristin Turner is going to have her hands full with this potent offense. The Spartans torched Winthrop's ace Alex Ferri, who was named the 2012 Northeastern Conference South Player of the Year. In just three years as a starting pitcher, Ferri amassed 600 strikeouts for her career, however, her dominance on the mound had little effect in stopping the St. Mary's offense barrage.
Against common opponents, Rockport holds a 3-0 record while the Spartans sport a 1-1 record. Both squads faced off against Georgetown and Amesbury in 2012, with Rockport easily disposing of Georgetown twice, while St. Mary's routed them once. Trailing 3-0 against Amesbury, Rockport came back for a 7-3 victory while the Spartans fell to the Indians 11-9 in St. Mary's final game before the state tournament.
Despite being the higher seed, the Vikings are regarded as the underdog in today's contest. To Rockport coach Dianne Parisi, this is more of the same from a team that has continued to prove naysayers wrong.
"Even though we are the higher seed, I'm sure everyone automatically thinks that St. Mary's is going to win," Parisi said. "That has happened to us all year. Amesbury and Pentucket thought they were going to beat us and when we were down 5-1 against Lynnfield, they thought they were going to beat us too."
Coach Parisi has confidence her team is going to avenge last year's loss versus the Spartans.
"They're anxious and excited because they know what they're capable of," she said. "I always tell them, they are girls just like you. They have arms, they have legs and anything can happen when you step on the field. We're not a walk in the park and St. Mary's will see that when we step on the field."