CLINTON, Mass. — Providence reigned supreme in the AYF Olympics softball tournament after defeating powerhouse Detroit in a clash of titans in the championship game.
Both squads took care of business handily in the first three rounds before squaring off in a back-and-forth final which saw Providence dethrone the defending champions, 25-19, while also avenging last year’s loss to Detroit.
“I think what made Providence click was the fact that last year we only had one win,” said Providence outfielder Koko Kassabian. “Our loss to Detroit in the second round (in 2021) fueled us because we knew last year we were better than what we put out there and that this was our year to redeem ourselves and show everyone what we’re made of.”
Providence’s road to AYF softball supremacy began with a 29-0 beatdown over Manhattan in the opening round. They then knocked out Greater Boston’s “Karekin” team in a tight contest. Providence quickly went up 4-1 on Greater Boston before going cold and ending up down 5-4. The Varantians dug deep and responded with four crucial runs to win the match 8-5. Following the Boston win, Providence dismantled Philadelphia by a score of 28-2 in the semifinals.
Detroit entered the tournament as the number one seed after winning the championship in 2021 in Providence. In last year’s event, Detroit outscored opponents 63-11 during their dominant run. This year, they once again sported uniforms similar to Major League Baseball’s Detroit Tigers, blared music throughout the tournament and even playfully mocked and tried to distract their opponents.
Detroit’s dominance continued in their first two games of the tournament. They topped Greater Boston’s “Nejdeh” team, 15-6, before toppling North Andover, 23-9, in the semifinals. But their prolific run came to an end against Providence in the championship game, one that featured plenty of intensity, a number of lead changes and even some blood after Providence outfielder Zach Semerjian made a diving play to catch a ball in the outfield and scraped his right shin while doing so.
“It was a crucial moment, and I was able to make the play,” Semerjian said. “Just in the moment you want to win and you want to do anything possible to win. That’s the main theme of this softball tournament. It’s pretty competitive. At the end of the day we’re all friends here, but you want to win and Providence got its first championship in a while so it feels pretty good.”
Providence started off the match hot, and eventually found itself with a 25-14 lead late in the ballgame. Detroit then initiated the start of a furious comeback, scoring five runs in one inning to bring the game to 25-19, but the Green Machine’s solid defense was able to stop the Detroit bats in their tracks.
A crucial piece of the Varantian team was Sophia Chevian, playing in her second Olympics after joining the AYF in 2021. Chevian, who plays varsity softball at Pilgrim High School in Warwick, Rhode Island, seemed to crush the ball over the outfielders with each at bat. Newcomer Allan Kevorkian also brought a calm and collective mind to the Providence infield at the shortstop position, making each play look more and more routine.
The Providence team was led by coach Ken Topalian, who is experienced in pressure-packed moments having participated in the World Winter Olympics in bobsled back in 1994. Assistant coaches Steve Elmasian, Bob Chevian and Steve Mesrobian also helped lead the Varantians to victory. Topalian’s sons Shahan and Alexan were key members of the team that led Providence to victory.
“It definitely means a lot,” Shahan Topalian said. “We’ve been practicing all summer, and this win out of all the other wins today definitely feels more special because not only was it the championship, but I had a lot of family on the other team, and it’s going to feel good during Christmas to talk about how we finally took over the softball crown.”
“This title is huge for us because we spent the summer trying to go out there and give it our all and come home with the trophy,” Kassabian said.
In the end, the camaraderie and friendships made from the tournament meant more than any result on the field.
“Having participated for a decade, I’m not the greatest athlete but I’m always part of team sports,” Alexan Topalian said. “And now looking at some of the younger kids who have joined our chapter — either Juniors or novices interested in joining AYF — this is their first exposure to being Armenian. Some of them could be half-Armenian or quarter-Armenian, but at the end of the day they’re Armenian. Without having an organization like this, without having events like this, it makes it very hard for them to ever tap into that. And I think that’s super powerful.”