THE WARRIORS celebrate Paige Butland’s first of 3 homers in their 12-11 win over Wilmington in the first round of the D2 tourney yesterday. (Dan Pawlowski Photo)


WAKEFIELD — In a softball game with more momentum swings than an episode of Succession, it was the No. 16 Wakefield Warriors who trotted off their home Meghan Burnett Field with that feel-good Ted Lasso energy after a 7th inning walk-off concluded a 12-11 victory in the first round of the Div. 2 state tournament against No. 17 Wilmington yesterday.

The Warriors took a 5-1 lead early in this one before a relentless, 8-run 3rd inning for the Wildcats changed the game. 

Senior captain Paige Butland, who had three solo home runs in this one, kept her team in it as Wakefield continued to chip away, eventually reclaiming the lead at 11-10 after a 5-run 6th thanks in large part to a bases clearing double by junior Meredith Morris. 

After Wilmington tied it in the top of the 7th, Wakefield’s starting pitcher, freshman Kathryn Sliski, came up with the bases loaded and patiently accepted a walk to score Jade Waterhouse for the winning run. 

The Warriors (12-9) will now travel to No. 1 Westfield (18-1), 108 miles away from Farm Street, for a Round of 16 matchup today at 4:30 p.m. 

“The game really embodied what this team is, and that’s gritty,” said Wakefield head coach Chris Tolios. “They keep on battling. We started the season 1-6 and battled the rest of the way to earn a home game in the tournament. Then in that home game, we went down and battled back to win. It was fun to watch and true to character of who we are. It’s such a great group and I enjoy nothing more than seeing them excited and celebrating together.”

It takes a collective effort and mindset to stare down a five-run deficit with your season on the line and battle back. It also requires leaders to set the tone. Butland did that throughout with each of her three homers leading off an inning. In the first at-bat of the game for Wakefield, Butland smashed one to left-center to open the scoring. In the 4th, with her team down 10-5, she crushed one down the left field line and celebrated by urging her teammates to get on base and keep the faith. 

After the offense stalled a bit, it was Butland again, this time leading off the 6th with a shot to dead-center to make it 10-7, sparking Wakefield’s most clutch inning of the season.

“Standout game for Paige with those 3 home runs, she’s been so steady all year,” said Tolios. 

After senior captains Emma Kane, Sara Nemec and Charlotte Rossicone all walked to load the bags later in the 6th, senior Abbey Fitzpatrick walked to make it 10-8, setting up the heroics of Morris whose opposite field drive reached the fence in left to bring in three runs and reclaim the lead for the first time since the 3rd.  

“It was great to see Meredith come up huge in that big spot,” said Tolios. “She’s been playing really well for us lately and to carry that into the tournament is certainly a plus.”

After Wilmington tied it 1-1 in the 2nd, the Warriors put together a 4-run frame in the home half. Rossicone had a leadoff double followed by an infield single from freshman Jackie Sullivan. A Morris walk loaded the bases and a 2-RBI base hit from Waterhouse made it 3-1. Consecutive walks to Butland and sophomore Kathleen Gmelch made it 4-1 and a sac fly by Kane pushed the lead to four runs.

Wilmington, who beat Wakefield twice in the regular season, broke out in the 3rd against Sliski and tacked on another in the 4th for their 10-5 lead. To the credit of Wakefield’s freshman ace, she responded in a huge way, allowing just one more run in the final three innings. That effort was especially apparent in the top of the 7th with the Wildcats threatening to take the lead. After tying it, they had runners at 2nd and 3rd, still with no outs. A wild pitch then created a play at the plate but Kane the catcher was ready for it, recovering at the backstop and somehow flipping to Sliski at the plate just in time to tag the runner for a huge first out that kept it tied. A liner to Gmelch, who made multiple terrific plays at shortstop in this one, accounted for the second out and Sliski dug deep to strike out the final batter of the inning, regaining all the momentum for the Warriors to go walk it off. 

Wakefield now returns to the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. Last year, it was Wakefield’s first trip past the first round since 2009. They played the top seed in last year’s tournament as well, falling to Billerica. Westfield, the state champs last year who knocked off Billerica in the semifinals, provides another tough challenge for the Warriors who will be playing the Bombers on about 22 hours rest. No matter what happens, Wakefield softball has made their mark in Div. 2, once again.

“This win means a lot for the program. Especially against a team in our division that had already beaten us twice this season,” said Tolios. “We were in the same spot last year in the state tournament, making it to the Sweet 16, but I think this victory solidifies to the team and program as a whole that this is where we belong and last year wasn’t a fluke.  The bar was set and this is our expectation every year – to make the tournament and compete at a high level. 

“It also serves as a great learning experience for our younger girls. We have a freshman pitcher in the circle as well as a freshman first baseman, along with a sophomore shortstop and third basemen; all very key spots in the lineup. This experience is invaluable moving forward to keep this train going in the right direction every season.”