By Jean DePlacido
---- — For the second straight year, the Peabody Little League Senior Fastpitch softball all-stars are going to the state finals.
Peabody won the District 16 crown by beating Salem in two straight, 4-2 and 9-5. The team was supposed to face Wakefield in the sectionals, but won by forfeit when their opponent dropped out.
Next up for Peabody is Westfield, which swept Quaboag in its own sectional series. They’ll meet in the state tournament in Winchendon with a doubleheader this Saturday; if necessary, a winner-take-all finale will take place on Sunday.
“We don’t have many games under our belts before the state tournament,” said manager Bill Hayward. “I wish we had been able to play in the sectionals, but that was out of our control.
“Fastpitch softball has come a long way in the three years we’ve had the program in Peabody. We started with just three teams the first year, had four last season and now we have five.”
The Senior League is for players aged 13-to-16, but the younger girls returned to the Junior Division for tournament play and Hayward’s team is subsequently made up of all 15-and 16-year-olds.
“The teams from the western part of the state are tough, but we’ll be ready,” said Hayward. “We have power hitters, slap hitters and some good bunters. There are no weak hitters on this team.”
Hayward, who has been coaching in the league for three years, was an assistant on the Juniors team that went to states a year ago. He said this team has “90 percent” of its players who are on their respective varsity or junior varsity high school teams.
Shannon Pires, who was the backup pitcher for the Peabody High varsity, has been doing an excellent job on the mound for the Peabody all-stars. The Tanners’ No. 1 varsity pitcher, Shelbi Wilson, has been recovering from an arm injury, but Hayward believes she will be ready to DH for at states this weekend.
Kayla Santos and Dom DelBene split the catching duties; DelBene belted a long homer out of Mack Park in the sectional finals against Salem. Sara Hayward and Katie Tansey are at first base; Ashley Jenkins and Courtney Sabino handle second; Ashley Ghostlaw and Katie O’Brien are the shortstops; and Michelle McHugh is at third base, where Jenkins also helps out.
Briana Silva, Paige Hayward and Meghan Lurvy are the starting outfielders for Peabody, but any of the infielders could also see action out there as well.
“We’re a well balanced team. It’s nice to be able to move the girls around to different positions,” said Hayward, who is assisted by Steve Ghostlaw and Ken O’Brien.
“We took the three best players from each team, and it’s a friendly group that encourages each other.”