Lions softball making ‘a statement’ on the diamond

West Boylston softball captains (from left) junior captains Lucy Allen and Kaitlin Flaherty, sophomore captain Shannon Luksha and junior captain Peyton Maloney.

WEST BOYLSTON – During the April school vacation, the West Boylston High School softball team took a 12-1 decision from Ayer-Shirley, a game that Lions coach John Pajer referred to as “a statement game.”

In that contest, junior captain Peyton Maloney went the distance, pitching a two hitter, while striking out 10 batters. The hard throwing right-hander has 68 strikeouts on the season.

Sophomore captain Shannon Luksha went 4 for 5 with a home run and five RBI’s. Junior captains Lucy Allen and Kaitlin Flaherty added four and three hits, respectively.

West Boylston banged out 21 hits in the game.

Since that Ayer-Shirley win, the Lions took two decisions from Murdock, and one from Tahanto and Maynard. As of press time, the Lions own an 9-1 overall record, and are 6-0 in the Midland-Wachsett League D Division.

“This (Ayer-Shirley) was kind of a statement game for us,” Pajer said. “We have a competitive league with many good teams, but we feel like we are the top team, and today (against Ayer-Shirley), we played that way.

“We never worry about Peyton (Maloney), because we are always in position to win when she is pitching,” he said. “We have a strong defense behind her and this Ayer-Shirley game was the breakout game for our hitting that we’ve been waiting two years for.

“This was our best hitting game in a long time,” Pajer added.

Including West Boylston and Ayer-Shirley, the other teams in the league are Tahanto, Maynard, Narragansett and Murdock.

Last season, the Lions captured the Central Mass. Athletic Directors Association (CMADA) Division 4 championship, and then advanced to the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) Central Division 3 tournament final.

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In addition, West Boylston was league champions, finishing with a 14-2 record.

Pajer, who has almost his entire starting nine back, was proud of his team’s accomplishments last year, and is hoping to continue the winning ways this season.

“First of all, we want to defend that athletics director’s tournament,” Pajer said. “That is certainly one of our goals. After that, the way the state tournament format is set up, we are hoping to make a deep run.”\

“We will be in Division 5 this year, and we are hoping to be a top 10 seed,” he said. “If we keep playing the way we’ve been playing, we should do well.

“Our only loss is to Advanced Math and Science (Academy), but they are two divisions higher than us, and we played them tough,” Pajer added. “We hung together against a senior-heavy team, so that is the kind of game we needed to play.”

The team captains are Maloney, Allen, Flaherty and Luksha.

Maloney, one of the top pitchers in Central Mass., will do the bulk of the pitching, while Allen, a catcher, is the other half of the battery.

 Maloney can also lead with the bat, finishing last season with a .500 average, the best on the team.

Allen batted over .300 last season.

“The biggest thing with Peyton (Maloney) is when she’s on, she puts us in a position to win,” Pajer said. “She is only a junior, but one of the best pitchers in Central Mass.

“She is a quiet leader that commands the respect of the entire team,” he said. “She is the field general on the team and leads with the bat and the pitching arm. She loves the sport and it shows.

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“Lucy Allen is just a rock behind the plate,” Pajer said. “She doesn’t give up stolen bases, and she knows how to handle Peyton.

“She knows how to spot the pitches, and is one of our best hitters,” he added.

Flaherty plays right field, while Luksha is the shortstop.

“Kaitlin (Flaherty) is probably the best outfielder we have,” Pajer said. “With Peyton on the mound, she gets the most work (in right field), with the hitters behind on her fastball.

“She started in right field in the eighth grade,” he said. “She is softball smart, and she is another leader that everyone looks up to.

“Shannon (Luksha) is a pure athlete and probably the best shortstop in our league,” Pajer said. “Athletic-wise, she has a cannon for an arm, and works at it all year long. She is our lead-off hitter, who sets the table, and gets it done on both sides of the ball.”

The lone senior on the squad is Jenna Marinelli, who plays first base, along with junior Riley Eagan, who batted over .300 last season.

“Jenna (Marinelli) plays good defense, and will split time with Riley (Eagan) at first,” Pajer said. “We bat Riley in the fifth spot, where she can knock in runs. She is a pure hitter, with power.”

At second base is sophomore Maddie Petro, who batted .350 last season, while junior Katie Kursonis is at third.

“Maddie (Petro) is a second-year starter, and one of the best athletes in the school,” Pajer said. “She covers a ton of ground, and is always in the right place at the right time. She is another one who sets the table and helps move runners around.

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“Katie (Kursonis) has good bunt coverage at third, and knows where to be in those situations,” he said. “She is solid defensively.”

The Lions have plenty of speed in the outfield, with junior Olivia Downer, who hit .375 in 2021, in leftfield, with Sammie Mullins in center, and Flaherty in right.

“Olivia Downer was a utility player last season, but worked hard in the off-season and joined a travel team, and is now a starter,” Pajer said. “She is fantastic in the outfield, and with her bat, she is beginning to barrel the ball up.

“Sammie Mullins is starting for the second year in the outfield,” he said. “She is a field general out there and can cover ground in any direction, and tracks balls down. She is very fast and can cause chaos on the base paths.”

Other members of the team are juniors Mia Guinto and Rebekah Dorman, sophomore Emma Kaminski, freshman Amelia Reilly and eighth-grader Zoe Chila.

“Mia Guinto is a utility player, but very valuable to the team,” Pajer said. “One of her jobs is as a pinch runner, and she is smart on the bases, and gives us some speed.

“Rebekah Dorman’s biggest job is to throw some innings, when Peyton doesn’t pitch,” he said. “Amelia (Reilly) is a utility infielder, who will see some time at second base,” he said. “Zoe (Chila) and Emma (Kaminski) will play both JV (junior varsity) and varsity.”

Rich Granger is the varsity assistant coach, while Kelli McSweeney coaches the JV team.