Winning pitcher Hannah Turcotte goes into a windup against Monmouth Academy in Monmouth. (Tony Blasi/Sun Journal)
No matter what happens this week, a round of applause is in order for Spruce Mountain, which made a hairpin turn in the Mountain Valley Conference and a beeline for the softball playoffs.
“Returning to the MVC seemed to infuse new life and enthusiasm to both the girls and coaches,” Spruce Mountain coach Clint Brooks said. “Playing teams that are geographically close to Spruce are more fun to compete against and tend to attract greater fan interest.
“It is far more satisfying to beat the Hall-Dales, Monmouths and Lisbons who have provided us with highly competitive games for many years.”
Last season, the Phoenix were getting knocked around in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference and finished with a 3-13 record.
But a move to the MVC was just what Brooks ordered and now the Phoenix head to the postseason with a winning 9-7 record. No. 11 Spruce will travel to face No. 6 Greely (9-7) in a Class B south preliminary round Tuesday at 4:30 p.m
“The girls have fun playing the game, which in the end is what sports at this level is about,” Brooks said. “They support each other unconditionally and maintain a lighthearted demeanour in the dugout.
“Music has become a staple of their pregame ‘preparation.’ Fortunately, it is usually oldies, which makes it tolerable for the coaches. (Assistant) Coach (Robin) Roberts and I emphasize the importance of not becoming too ‘down’ over a tough loss, and the girls were able to do exactly that.
“We lost a couple of very important games early in the season and had one of those games against Telstar that none of us were happy about. That particular game kept us from double digits in our won-loss record, which was something we believed was achievable. In spite of that, we finished the regular season on a positive note and move on to the postseason.”
With winning came more pleasant surprises for the Phoenix this season.
“My biggest surprise is how quickly our two freshman standout players — pitcher Hannah Turcotte and catcher Abby Ortiz — adjusted to this level of competition,” Brooks said. “Both girls have contributed significantly to our success this season. It is a big jump, and Hannah and Abby seamlessly transitioned to high school varsity-level softball.”
Of course, there were many other members of this playoff-bound cast who gave the Phoenix the offensive punch they needed to prevail
“Several players have contributed to our success this year, but I would be remiss not to single out JuJu Doiron,” Brooks said. “Robin and I concur that JuJu has put together a year at the plate that we have never before witnessed in our 17 years of softball coaching.
“Pitcher Hannah Turcotte has singularly kept us in nearly all our games this year. Our defense has been very strong with contributions from third baseman Hailee Perkins, shortstop Haley Turcotte and outfielders Allison Acritelli, Grace Harmatys and Calley Baker.
“The key to our success rested on the bat of JuJu Doiron, the pitching of Hannah Turcotte and the resilience of the entire squad, who never were willing to concede defeat until our 21 outs had been exhausted.”
Wait, there’s more!
Brooks also pointed the finger at several other players who had a hand in Spruce Mountain’s prosperity:
“We were buoyed by the return of Morgan Dalton, Haley Turcotte and Brooke Buote,” Brooks said. “All three were sorely missed last year and vital to the resurgence of the Spruce softball program. The unexpected contributions from freshmen Hannah Turcotte and Abby Ortiz were equally important.”
Brooks and Roberts feel like they are back in the saddle again as their Phoenix make a long overdue appearance in the postseason.
“Robin and I have become very accustomed to postseason play over the years at JHS and SM,” Brooks said. “It feels great to be back after missing out the past couple of years.
“We are fully aware of the challenge that we face at the Class B level in order to advance (as are the girls). We will approach postseason as we did the regular season by playing smart ball and doing the little things that could generate an upset. Being a decided underdog is not always the worst thing in the world of sports.”
True, but it doesn’t matter, because the Phoenix have arrived for the postseason.
“Coach Roberts and I want to thank the girls who make the commitment to the sport we love,” Brooks said. “We also would like to acknowledge the families and friends of the girls, who have been so supportive of the team this year.
“We had several large, loud and enthusiastic crowds and it is greatly appreciated by players and coaches. We look forward to seeing many of you back next year, as we continue to re-establish Spruce Mountain as an MVC softball powerhouse.”
Spruce Mountain’s Morgan Dalton connects for a single during a loss to Oak Hill in Wales in a game earlier this season. (Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal)
Spruce Mountain’s Grace Harmatys eyes first base as Oak Hill first baseman Julia Ahlberg awaits a throw during the Raiders’ win in Wales recently. (Wil Kramlich/Sun Journal)
Spruce Mountain’s Haley Turcotte slides safely into home as Monmouth Academy’s Abby Ferland waits for the ball during a softball game in Monmouth. (Tony Blasi/Sun Journal)