Penobscot Valley Howlers players celebrate after receiving the championship trophy on Saturday at Standish. The Howlers downed Richmond, 4-0, in the State Class D title game.
STANDISH — Prior to Saturday’s Class D softball state championship game, Penobscot Valley coach Patrick Leonard felt his team was ready for the challenge.
This was the ultimate challenge for his Howlers, facing four-time defending state champion Richmond, a team that hadn’t lost a game since falling to Penobscot Valley in the 2012 title game. The Bobcats entered the contest riding an 88-game winning streak, with a senior class that had never experienced a softball defeat.
That is until Howlers freshman pitcher Leine McKechnie took over. She hit and pitched her team to a stunning 4-0 victory at St. Joseph’s College, giving the champs from the North a perfect 20-0 mark, while Richmond finishes 18-1.
How good was McKechnie? On the mound, she was simply dominating, throwing a no-hitter, striking out 11 and walking three. She retired the final 14 Richmond hitters she faced. Only one Bobcat hit the ball out of the infield, a harmless fly ball by Caitlin Kendrick to right field to open the seventh inning.
McKechnie’s bat provided the fatal blow, a long three-run home run that was still rising when it cleared the left-center field wall, traveling an estimated 300 feet.
To say the least, the freshman had a day to remember.
“We were really on today and knew that we had to come out hard if we wanted to beat this team,” McKechnie said. “I knew I had to go out on the mound and pitch my game. I have been having a hard time hitting the past couple of weeks, and I knew that I needed to take a deep breath in the box; I slowed down my swing and it helped.”
“She knew what to do and she did that today,” Richmond junior Sydney Underhill-Tilton said of McKechnie.
In a game that was scoreless through six innings, it was the Howlers that finally took advantage of their opportunities.
Morgan Banks singled to right field with one out and Lexi Ireland, who was 3-for-3 at the plate, was hit by an Underhill-Tilton pitch. Meranda Martin, who pitched the first four innings for the Bobcats, returned to the mound to face Erynn Williams, who hit a ground ball that glanced off a Bobcat’s glove and into center field, allowing Banks to slide into home with the game’s first run.
Next came McKechnie, who drove a 2-1 pitch from Martin out of Bailey Field for a 4-0 lead.
“She had a hell of game, a hell of player and someone fun to watch,” Richmond coach Tony Martin said of McKechnie. “Yeah, we lost 4-0 today. But all these girls kept their heads up high. The girls played the game very well, and 88 games is a great streak.”
“They are well-coached and the record speaks for itself,” Leonard said of the Bobcats. “It was the 2012 season that we were able to take (Richmond) out for the title, and now in 2017 we were able to do it and end with a perfect 20-0 season.”
“It was a great performance by both teams, and in the end I don’t think it was the better team, it was just a great matchup and both us deserved it,” Richmond senior third baseman Camryn Hurley said. “It was a great run. I am super-proud of these girls and everything that we have done.”
Meranda Martin and McKechnie took very different routes to four scoreless innings on the mound. The Howlers had four singles and a walk against the Richmond senior, but failed to crack the scoreboard as they struck out eight times and left five runners on base.
McKechnie struck out the side in the first inning, working around a walk to Underhill-Tilton. After a 1-2-3 second, she struggled with her control, throwing 12 balls on 17 pitches and walking both Kaylee Williams and Meranda Martin with one out. But a strikeout and a ground ball to second ended the threat. It was the last time the Bobcats had a base runner.
Underhill-Tilton relieved Martin to begin the fifth for Richmond. Ireland tripled with one out, but stayed there as Underhill-Tilton retired the next two Penobscot Valley hitters on comebackers to the mound.
“I knew that we had to stay tough and if we did that, we could hold them,” McKechnie said. “I really thought this game was going to go into extra innings. We were doing well fielding, they were doing well fielding. I thought we might still be playing.”
But, the freshman and her teammates had other ideas, celebrating the final out — a ground ball to first base — and lifting the championship trophy.
“It was a good game all-around, both teams back and forth, strikeout for strikeout, out for an out,” Meranda Martin said. “That was a great hit and there was nothing you could do about that.”
“She got that timing down, and we saw what happened,” Leonard said. “This was very special. How fit was it to throw a no-hitter for the state championship? This was humbling to watch.”
Ryley Buck was 2-for-3 for the Howlers, while Elizabeth McKinnon singled and stole two bases.
Meranda Martin combined to throw 4 2/3 innings in her two stints on the mound with eight strikeouts, one walk and six hits allowed. Underhill-Tilton picked up two strikeouts and allowed four hits in 2 1/3 frames.
Penobscot Valley’s Elizabeth McKinnon, left, slides into third ahead of the tag of Richmond third baseman Camryn Hurley on a steal attempt in the State Class D softball championship game at Standish on Saturday. The Howlers downed the Bobcats, 4-0.