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Methuen softball surges into North final

 LOWELL — Methuen softball coach Jason Smith couldn’t have drawn up a better game plan than the one his Rangers delivered in Thursday night’s Division 1 North semifinals.
 
With starter Jillian McCoy quieting the bats of top-seeded Concord-Carlisle and a defense that threw out three base runners, including two at the plate, fourth-seeded Methuen advanced to its first North final since 2015 with a 5-1 victory on Thursday at Martin Field.
 
“Yes it was,” Smith said when asked if it was as sweet as he imagined. “(Concord-Carlisle) is a fantastic opponent, and we knew we were going to get a battle. But my hat is off to my (Rangers).
 
“They are a really close-knit group that has each other’s back. They were ultra focused tonight. Between Jill and our defense, we were ready, and I was very pleased with the results.
 
The Rangers (20-3) will return to Martin Field to face seventh-seeded Newton North (18-4) in the Division 1 North final at 7 p.m. Newton North was a 2-1 winner over Medford in the earlier semi, at 7 p.m. Saturday. 
Methuen catcher Courtney Belanger twice magnificently blocked the plate while taking a pair of great throws from third baseman Emma McAlpine that nailed the game’s first would-be run in the fourth, and another potential run in the sixth. Belanger was also the middle assist on a play at third that began with a fly out to right fielder Kerri Horan.
“Courtney does a fantastic job of positioning herself in the right place,” Smith said. “We had some really good throws. We needed to make the good throws because they needed to be almost perfect in those situations, and we made the plays. Credit to our defense tonight for helping out their pitcher.”
Methuen opened the scoring in the third when Nyah Mazzone blasted a double and scored on an error. The Rangers added two in the fifth on an RBI ground out by Mazzone and a single by McAlpine. Mazzone also drove in a seventh-inning run with a single before scoring on Concord’s third error of the game.
Mazzone, a junior who bats third, junior clean-up hitter McAlpine and freshman lead-off Steph Tardugno have combined to go 15-for-26 in three postseason games with nine RBIs while scoring half  of Methuen’s 16 runs.
“We talked about moving up a little bit in the box,” Smith said. “But I think we were a little anxious early, too. We have some young players in the lineup ... so we had to calm the nerves a little bit. Once we got a few (hits), I think everyone saw we could do this.”
Sophomore hurler McCoy won her second playoff start, allowing five hits with one walk and three strikeouts.

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