Div. 5 softball: Turners Falls father-daughter duo of assistant coach Jay Liimatainen, pitcher Madi Liimatainen celebrate Father’s Day weekend as state champions

Turners Falls assistant coach Jay Liimatainen talks to his daughter, Madi, after she reached first base during the Thunder’s 5-0 win over Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 championship game on Saturday at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass. 

Turners Falls assistant coach Jay Liimatainen talks to his daughter, Madi, after she reached first base during the Thunder’s 5-0 win over Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 championship game on Saturday at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass.  STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Turners Falls assistant coach Jay Liimatainen high-fives his daughter, Madi, after she reached first base during the Thunder’s 5-0 win over Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 championship game on Saturday at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass.

Turners Falls assistant coach Jay Liimatainen high-fives his daughter, Madi, after she reached first base during the Thunder’s 5-0 win over Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 championship game on Saturday at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass. STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

Turners Falls’ Madi Liimatainen (5) is introduced during pregame festivities against Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 championship game on Saturday at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass. 

Turners Falls’ Madi Liimatainen (5) is introduced during pregame festivities against Georgetown in the MIAA Division 5 championship game on Saturday at Sortino Field on the campus of UMass.  STAFF PHOTO/JEFF LAJOIE

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 06-15-2024 4:33 PM

AMHERST — On Father’s Day weekend, Turners Falls softball assistant coach Jay Liimatainen couldn’t have asked for a better gift from his daughter.

Madi Liimatainen, the Thunder’s ace, gave up a trio of base runners on a hit and two walks in the first inning of Saturday’s MIAA Div. 5 state championship game against Georgetown but settled in from there. From the second inning on, the junior didn’t allow a hit, striking out 12 and walking just three, leading Turners to the 11th state championship in program history with a 5-0 victory at Sortino Field. 

For Madi, getting to win a second state title alongside her dad made the moment all the more special. 

“Having my dad as one of my coaches is awesome,” Madi said. “I love it so much.”

Getting to share the same memories of winning a state title is something the father-daughter duo will be able to cherish for a long time. 

“This is the best Father’s Day gift I could ever ask for,” Jay said. “She’s striking kids out on a 3-2 changeup. Who would think we’d see that? This is definitely the best gift ever.” 

Madi — who has over 900 strikeouts and two state titles to her name before her senior year — and Jay put the time in together on the softball diamond.

The reward Saturday was an 11th state title for the Powertown program. It’s the type of payoff that makes all that hard work worth it. 

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“Winning this is awesome,” Jay said. “I can’t even explain it. Obviously with Madi being my daughter, she’s incredible. She puts in a lot of time and puts in a lot of effort. She’s a great leader and I’m super proud of her and the team.”

After winning a state title as an eighth grader, Madi and the Thunder have been looking to recapture that feeling. 

Falling in the semifinals in 2022 and the state championship game against Greenfield in 2023 only fueled Turners’ fire to lift another state crown. 

Madi said getting to do it with this group — senior Holly Myers is the only other member of the 2021 state title team — made it particularly special. She’s glad the younger players in the program were able to experience the same feeling she and Myers did three years ago. 

“This feeling is indescribable,” Madi said. “There’s so many emotions. I’m sad I have to say bye to our seniors but I’m so happy they got to experience this because winning states is something you’ll be talking about for the next 20 years. We played really well.”

Like many championship teams, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. A three-game losing skid in the middle of the season coupled with a slow hitting stretch made a run at a state title feel even more challenging. 

Instead of giving up, Turners put the extra work in at practice to get better and began playing its best softball at the perfect time of year. 

“There were times during the season where we didn’t know if we’d be here while going through a rough part,” Madi said. “That shows how much a team can progress in such little time. We knew we had to dig down and prove to people we could do it. The fact we did it is a weight off the shoulders. We get to go home, have the parade and enjoy these next few months because of one game.” 

Jay Liimatainen noted the Thunder really began making strides forward over the last three weeks, turning into what eventually became a state championship-winning group. 

“These last three weeks, this team just got better every day,” he said. “They put in a lot of time and it showed. Day in, day out they put the work in during practice and the stuff we did in practice translated to games. It’s what coaches dream of.”

After loading the bases with a pair of walks and a hit in the first, Madi settled in and found a rhythm. The junior struck out 11 of the next 15 batters she faced, finishing the state title game having allowed just one hit. 

“I think I needed an inning to feel myself and find the zone,” Madi said. “My pitches weren’t working the first inning. I came out here, I threw a couple... I knew I had to dial in and relax. Once I relaxed and did what I knew how to do, it was a high ceiling from there.” 

The junior helped herself by cracking a base hit up the middle in the second to drive in two, giving the Thunder a 3-0 lead. There she was congratulated by Jay, who coaches first base for the blue and white.

She said it was the advice her dad preaches to her that helped her get the job done at the plate on Saturday. 

“I walked in and said I wanted to hit the ball up the middle,” Madi said. “My dad always says go in with a plan, so my plan was to hit it hard up the middle.” 

With still another year to go, the father-daughter duo have another chance to bring more hardware back to Turners Falls.

But for now, the two were able to celebrate Father’s Day weekend together – as champions.