H.S. softball: New teams add intrigue into state finals

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Of the eight teams to make it to Saturday’s softball state championship teams, only three made it to the final day of the season last year, and only two of the four champions can be repeats.

One of this year’s finalists has the chance to win its school’s first softball state title, while three others can break some long droughts.

Class A

As often as it seems that Scarborough is in a softball state championship game, the Red Storm haven’t played in the state final in an even-numbered year since 1998 — when they were still a Class B program.

Still, the Red Storm are the defending champions and played like it this season. Scarborough enters the state final 19-0, thanks to a nine-inning victory over Thornton Academy in the South regional final. That was the team’s closest game all season, and except for a two-run victory over the Trojans during the regular season, no opponent played the Red Storm within six runs.

Chloe Griffin helped pace the Red Storm in both the circle and at the plate, pitching to a 13-0 record while hitting .451. The team combined for 26 home runs, with Bella Dickinson and Hunter Greenleaf smacking six each. Outfielder Laura Powell as a first-team all-SMAA selection, while first baseman Felicia O’Reilly was named to the second team.

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The Red Storm’s opponent this year, North champion Oxford Hills, hasn’t been to the state final since 1998-99. The Vikings made it to the regional final last year, and they brought back much of that roster. Sophomore starting pitcher Lauren N. Merrill improved in her second year in the circle, and the Vikings have a veteran infield that has backed up the contact pitcher who excels at hitting her spots.

The Vikings’ lineup is balanced, and as Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson attested to after losing to Oxford Hills in the North final, they are deep. When the Vikings do get on, they like to run the bases and put pressure on the opposing defense. Much of the lineup has home-run power as well.

Oxford Hills will need to score runs, like it did in the regional final, in order to keep pace with a Scarborough offense that lit up much of the competition in the South this season.

Class B

Two new finalists will meet in the Class B state title game, and they took different paths to get there.

North champion Brewer dropped down from Class A — where the Witches last played in and won the state title in 2008 — and took down all opponents on its way to a 19-0 record entering the final. Junior pitcher Libby Hewes did it all for the Witches, both pitching and hitting.

Scoring runs hasn’t been a problem for the Witches as a team. They haven’t been held to less than three runs, and they’ve scored at least six in every game since the calendar turned to May.

South champ Greely, on the other hand, advanced to its first state title game since 2013 on the back of a pair of 1-0 victories. The Rangers, who are in search of their first state title since 2002, came out of the South as the No. 6 seed.

They are led by senior pitcher Kelsey Currier, who has been lights-out the past two games. Currier admitted after a semifinal win over Gray-New Gloucester that they feels like an underdog. And with Currier and catcher Maddie Rawsnley as the only seniors, the Rangers weren’t expected to get to Saturday’s final.

It certainly didn’t look that way during a five-game losing streak during the middle of the season. Head coach Rob Hale said early in the season he would have been disappointed if his team didn’t make it to the regional final, but by the time a fifth straight loss came around that felt like a dwindling hope.

But now the Rangers are in the state final, where they will be underdogs against a mighty Brewer team that will be playing on its home field.

Class C

Madison has made it back to the state final for the third year in a row. However, a state championship rubber match against Bucksport was denied when North champion Narraguagus ousted the Bucks in the regional final.

While Madison is just two years removed from its last state championship, the Knights haven’t hoisted the trophy since 2002.

The Bulldogs have much of last year’s roster back, and sophomore pitcher Lauria LeBlanc has slid right into the circle and been a more-than-solid contributor. Her strikeout totals and her team’s offensive output often have an internal competition to see which total will be the highest.

LeBlanc might also be in a strikeout battle with Narraguagus’ Lanie Perry in Saturday’s final. Perry, a junior, has averaged more than 10 strikeouts per game this season.

Class D

Penobscot Valley needed 10 innings to get back to the state final, which the Howlers hope to win again. It would be their third title since 2012, in their fourth trip.

South champion Greenville, meanwhile, has never won a softball state title, and before Wednesday had never even earned a trip to the state final.

Both teams certainly earned the trip this season. The Howlers have yet to lose, going 19-0. The Lakers lost just once, to Class C North champion Narraguagus.

Strikeouts should be aplenty in the final. Penobscot Valley pitcher Leine McKechnie struck out 21 batters in the 10-inning regional final win, and she also had a three-run homer in the final frame. Greenville starter Halle Pelletier struck out eight batters in the South final, including four in a row late in the game. Head coach Mike Cabral said Pelletier gets stronger as games go on, and it usually coincides with the Lakers’ offense heating up.

Those Greenville bats will need to come alive against McKechnie in order to keep the Howlers from winning their 40th straight game.

Both pitchers have family on the team, making Saturday’s state final a chance for one pitcher’s win to be that much more special.

wkramlich@sunjournal.com

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