High School Softball

A-B coming together at right time

By Seth Lakso
Globe Correspondent / May 30, 2011

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“It’s not where you start, it’s where you end up,’’ said Acton-Boxboro softball coach Mary Matthews, who has her No. 10 ranked Colonials (14-5) coming together at just the right time.

Prior to yesterday’s 5-1 loss to last year’s Division 1 state runner-up Milford, the Colonials had reeled off 13 consecutive wins.

However, if the loss has Matthews worried, it’s not showing.

“It’s really the first time we’ve been tested since we got our self together,’’ she said. “We pretty much used it as total tournament preparation game, it was nice to see where we’re actually at.’’

Matthews was pleased with the progress she’s seen her team make, since coming out of the gate 1-4 to start the season.

“The last time when we played [Milford], when you looked at the book it was strikeout, strikeout, strikeout, but now it’s more lineout, lineout,’’ said Matthews. “Even though we didn’t come away with the win today, I was please with how we put the ball in play.’’

It’s not coincidence that the Colonials’ slow start coincided with the five games star hurler Sarah Ropiak missed because of injuries. Since returning, Ropiak hadn’t surrendered an earned run heading into Memorial Day since returning to action. For the season, she has yielded six earned runs while sporting a 16-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

But it hasn’t just been the return of Ropiak that’s led to the Colonials’ surge.

“It’s not even as much Sarah as it’s the growth these kids have done as individuals and as a team,’’ said Matthews. “They’re winning and they’re still playing great softball even when [Ropiak’s] not in the circle.’’

It wasn’t until two weeks ago that Matthews believes the team really found its identity and rhythm. It took an 8-0 shellacking of Dual County League rival Boston Latin for the girls to really begin to believe in themselves.

“We really tried to push them to believe in their own skills,’’ said Matthews. “Starting off 1-4 was not easy for us mentally. I think we were afraid of failure. We really stressed confidence and having faith in your own skills.

“Everyday in practice we broke things down and focused on what we did wrong from the day before, and just worked on the little things.’’

Senior shortstop Jamay Li has been leading the team offensively. Li’s a contact hitter (.474 average) with good speed and a knack for timely hitting.

“She has the ability to adjust to any pitcher really well,’’ said Matthews. “She’s been a doubles machine. She just gets herself on base and makes her hits count, as evidenced by her team-leading RBI totals.’’

First basemen Michelle Surdan is one of three sophomores to consistently contribute for the Colonials, who have made a conscious effort to put pressure on opposing defenses by putting the ball in play this season.

“One-through-nine these kids can all make contact,’’ said Matthews. “[Surdan] has really come along. She’s the most improved player offensively from last season. All it took was just a few tweaks and she’s been making really solid contact and hitting for power.’’

Right now for the Colonials it’s just one game at a time as they try to shift the focus off their slow start and on to their fourth consecutive DCL championship season under Matthews. Yesterday’s loss by Boston Latin assured them of that title.

“We have our sights set high and we’re coming together at the right time,’’ said Matthews. “We have confidence in all of the tools of our game. We’re just going to take it one [game] at a time and see how it goes, but we expect some good things from ourselves.’’