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Bugs Bunny’s change-up is unique.

North Andover pitcher Brigid Gaffny has a true change-up, unlike the cartoon rabbit.

Gaffny imitated the popular cartoon character in the eighth inning of Friday’s Division 1 Round of 16 tournament game against No. 4 seed and unbeaten Wachusett Regional.

She struck out a runner at second base with a two-strike change-up. Next batter hit a weak ground ball to second baseman Emily Rondeau, who easily flipped it to first baseman Emily Mancuso for the final out.

Celebration began.

The Knights overcame a 21-0 squad in extra innings, 2-1.

North Andover (15-7) will face No. 5 seed and host Peabody (19-1) in the Elite 8 on Sunday at the Kiley Brothers School Field after winning. Taunton beat the Tanners in the state championship last year.

North Andover head coach Caitlin Flanagan remarked that four other Merrimack Valley Conference teams are still in the tournament. “Brigid carried us. She’s a worker and always has the finest attitude, so if she says we’ll win, we will.

The junior right-hander walked the lead-off batter to start the bottom of the eighth inning after Gaffny drove home the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly. After Gracie Granger’s sacrifice bunt, Esmee Frohock battled at the plate.

“We could tell that (Frohock) was being aggressive, and that ball that she fouled went right back (to the screen),” said catcher Jenna Roche, who called all the pitches. “I knew that once she went straight back with (that foul ball), it would be perfect to throw a change-up.”

Gaffny pulled the pitch and the slow motion change sank to the low right side of the plate, leaving Frohock little chance.

Keep them alert. “I like to mix it up every now and then,” Gaffny laughed, adding, “I didn’t feel nervous (in that last inning) because I had complete confidence in my teammates behind me. I trusted them the whole game and they delivered. That’s huge.”

Gaffny and Roche played fundamental softball in both halves of the eighth before the last out. Roche, a right-handed hitter, crushed a first-pitch fastball double past third base and into the left field corner.

Roche stated, “My first three at-bats, she threw me a fastball inside so I figured it was coming again so I wanted to take a (swing)”.

With Roche at second, Rondeau bunted, allowing Gaffny to loft an outside fastball to right field to score Roche from third and give the Knights the 2-1 lead.

Jenna’s duplicate began it. To connect, I thought. I searched around the striking zone. “Anything close, I’d do my best,” remarked Gaffny.

Flanagan was pleased that the past three months of foundational practice paid off.

Flanagan added, “We got the (extra) base hit, bunted her over, and got a sacrifice fly, and it’s textbook (fundamental softball). We won because they executed. That’s big against a club that hadn’t lost and is great at basics. It was amazing to see you show up and finish. We won. We scored one or two.”

North Andover had four hits, starting with Mancuso’s second-inning single. After Wachusett scored an unearned run in the opening half, she knotted the game on a passed ball. until the thrilling eighth. Gaffny escaped two previous situations before it.

I value this triumph. “I love this team,” Gaffny added. “We’re so close and it feels so great because everyone has worked so hard this season. Everyone’s improved. I’ve seen underclassmen and upperclassmen working together, playing hard, and keeping focused, and it’s really paying off.”

North Andover 2, Wachusett Regional 1

North Andover (15-7): 010 000 01 -2 4 1

Wachusett (21-1): 010 000 00 -1 5 0

North Andover: Mangiameli cf 2-0-0, Roche c 3-1-1, Rondeau 2b 3-0-0, Gaffny p 1-0-0, Bernard 3b 4-0-0, Mancuso 1b 2-1-1, Crosby dp 2-0-0, Iglesias lf 1-0-0, Oliverto ph 1-0-1, Bush pr 0-0-0, Lynch rf 3-0-1, Dunn ss 0-0-0. Totals: 22-2-4.

Wachusett: Ciccone 2b 4-0-0, Walsh ss 3-0-2, Grady rf 4-0-0, Caron 1b 3-0-1, Field pr 0-0-0, Geloso pr 0-0-0, Granger 3b 2-1-1, Roche dp 2-0-0, Frohock ph 1-0-0, Giaquinto cf 4-0-0, Moreno lf 2-0-0, Britt c 2-0-0, Lyne ph 1-0-1, Johnson pr 0-0-0, Bakun p 0-0-0. Totals: 28-1-5.

RBI: NA, Gaffny 1

WP: Gaffny 8 Ip, 1 R, 0 ER, 5 H, 3 BB, 9 K; LP: Bakun 8 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 5 BB, 8 K.

By Sanjh

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