LOWELL-- The biggest spot in Wednesday's Division 2 North Semifinal softball game between No. 2 Gloucester and No. 3 Whittier Tech came in the very first inning.
Gloucester was threatening to take the lead, putting runners on second and third with nobody out in the frame. Whittier Tech, however, almost got out of the jam with two outs in the heart of the batting order.
The Fishermen had the bases loaded with two outs, and junior first baseman Maddie Machado stepped up to the plate with the chance to make an early statement. Machado turned on an inside pitch and launched it over the head of the Whittier Tech left fielder to clear the bases and give Gloucester an early three-run lead.
That hit sparked a four-run first and Gloucester never looked back in a dominant, 8-0 win at Martin Field.
With the win, Gloucester improves to 19-3 and advances to the Division 2 North Finals on Saturday back at Martin Field (12 p.m.) against top-seeded Triton (20-1).
After falling short in the semifinals in 2016 and 2018, this was a big moment for the program.
"We had a couple of tough losses in the semifinals on this field so it was great to see the team really step up today," head coach John Nicastro said. "We had a great day at the plate, Sydney (McKay) was her usual self pitching and our defense got better as the game went on."
"You saw the signs early on, our No. 3 and No. 5 hitters struck out by Maddie Machado came up and picked up her teammates. That's what good teams do."
A four run lead was more than enough for NEC MVP McKay, who kept Whittier Tech from even threatening to cut into the lead as only two runners reached second base on the afternoon. McKay allowed three hits and struck out seven in a complete game shutout.
"They were on top of the plate so I was going inside all day," McKay said. "They thought I was going to throw the drop curve outside and I went to different pitches. It was great to pitch with a lead right away. When they made contact the defense was right there behind me. Maddie Machado has been killing it at the plate and she really got us going."
Machado extended Gloucester's lead to 4-0 in the first when she eluded a tag at the plate on a Natalie Aiello grounder on the infield.
Gloucester was not done hitting after the first inning as the team scored eight runs on nine hits. Machado and Marshall did most of the damage as Machado drove in four runs on two hits while Marshall had three hits and scored a pair of runs.
Marshall led off the third with a triple and then came in on a Tracy Wood single up the middle, extending Gloucester's lead to 5-0. Wood later came around to score on another Machado base hit.
The Fishermen got another run in the fourth when McKay, who singled, came in to score on a dropped line drive in the outfield. Marshall singled in Jemima Grow, who was hit by a pitch, to make it 8-0 in the sixth.
"It was such a great team effort," Nicastro said. "We took a lot of the pressure off early but I was just as impressed with the way the team did not let them back in the game. Now we are back here on Saturday for what should be another game against a great team."
Division 2 North Semifinals
No. 2 Gloucester 8, No. 3 Whittier Tech 0
at Martin Field, Lowell
WT: Greaney, 2B, 3-0-0; Habib, SS, 3-0-1; Michel, 3B, 3-0-0; Campbell, 1B, 3-0-0; Verrette, P, 3-0-0; Lear, C, 3-0-1; Bioren, DH, 3-0-1; Gonzalez, LF, 1-0-0; Bailey, RF, 1-0-0; Collazo, PH, 1-0-0. Totals, 24-0-3.
G: Thibodeau, LF, 4-1-1; Marshall, SS, 4-2-3; Wood, CF, 4-1-1; Schuster, C, 2-0-0; Rallo, PR, 0-1-0; Machado, 1B, 3-1-2; Aiello, 2B, 3-0-0; McKay, P, 2-0-1; Lowthers, PR, 1-1-0; Grow, P, 1-1-0. Totals, 27-8-9.
RBI: WT, none; G, Machado 4, Marshall, Wood, Aiello.
WP, McKay; LP, Verrette.
Records: WT, 18-4; G, 19-3.