The ball gets by Bangor third baseman Megan Conner allowing Oxford Hills’ Makayla Starbird to score yesterday at the Gouin Complex in South Paris.

PARIS — When defense plays a starring role in a softball game, it often means that there were costly errors.

On Saturday, however, it was successful — and sometimes stellar — play in the field that played a prominent part in Oxford Hills beating Bangor 4-0 in a Class A North game at Gouin Athletic Complex.

The very first at-bat set the tone for the Vikings (9-5). Bangor’s Madi Drake smacked a grounder seemingly headed into the outfield, but Oxford Hills second baseman Madi Starbird was able to range to the ball before firing to first ahead of Drake.

“Madi Starbird, she’s got range,” Vikings coach Cindy Goddard said.

Two batters later Starbird ranged back to catch a fly ball at the edge of the infield for a quick 1-2-3 inning.

Erin Morton then got the Vikings’ offense started by leading off the bottom of the first with a double to left that was just out of the reach of Rowan Andrews. Two batters later Morton scored on Lauren Merrill’s single to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead.

“Any time you can score a run in the first inning after you’ve played a good defensive (inning), you kind of feel like your energy is going your way,” Goddard said.

Things continued to go Merrill’s way. The Vikings’ sophomore starting pitcher retired the first six batters of the game and finished off the shutout allowing just four hits.

“Merrill pitched a great game,” Bangor coach Don Stanhope said. “She put a lot of spin on the ball, and instead of hitting something hard-middle, we were putting the ball towards second base. Their second baseman had a phenomenal day. She made three or four catches that most second baseman don’t make.”

Starbird’s defense kept the Rams (11-4) from potentially scoring a run in the fourth. Emma Payne doubled off Merrill with one out, and two batters later Morgan-Carter Moulton put solid contact on a grounder up the middle. But Starbird again showed her range by getting to the ball for the third out of the inning.

Center fielder Hannah Kenney, shortstop Kaisa Heikkinen and third baseman Kenzie Kahkonen also took turns flashing the leather to keep the Bangor offense quiet.

Kenney and Heikkinen both made standout plays in the top of the third, with the Vikings still holding onto a 1-0 lead. Kenney caught a liner for the first out after Lexi Cunningham led off with a slow infield single, then Heikkinen ranged back to catch a shallow fly hit by Andrews. Drake then singled to right-center, with Kenney cutting off the hit quickly before starting a relay to catcher Anna Piirainen at home to gun down Cunningham trying to score.

“The center fielder made three great plays on the ball,” Stanhope said. “One of them she caught probably would have been out of the park on any place with a 200-foot fence.”

Starbird showed she can hit as well as field her position. Batting out of the No. 9 spot in the lineup and leading off the bottom of the third, Starbird bunted her way on with a single. She then made it all the way around the bases when Morton’s sacrifice bunt was followed by a throwing error.

She then drove in another run in the fourth. Makayla Starbird hit a slow infield single with two outs, then Heikkinen was hit by a pitch. Starbird followed with a single to shallow center to score her sister and make it 3-0.

Merrill helped out her own cause the following inning with a triple to deep center that turned into a round-tripper with a bad Bangor cut-off throw.

“We made a few mental errors that we don’t usually make,” Stanhope said. “But credit goes to Oxford Hills for putting us in position where we have to make quick decisions.”

The Vikings then turned to their defense to finish off the game. The Bangor hitters picked on Kahkonen in the sixth. After fielding the first out, Megan Conner hit a slow infield single to Kahkonen that she couldn’t get to in time to get the out at first. After Starbird caught a liner for the second out, Lindy Bezgembluk smacked a single past a drawn-in Kahkonen. But the Vikings’ third baseman got the last laugh. She initially bobbled Moulton’s grounder, but corralled the bobble in time to get the out at first.

Kahkonen then got the first out of the top of the seventh before Heikkinen had her own defensive save. Cunningham hit a liner to short and Heikkinen was primed to make the catch, but it came out of the glove. She was able to get the dropped ball quickly and got the out.

“The shortstop tips it off a glove, concentrates, gets the out at first base. That’s pretty amazing,” Goddard said.

The final out, fittingly, was a groundout to Starbird.

“I’d have to say that was probably our best all-around in every aspect,” Goddard said. “The pitching was on, and defensively we held it, and we just kind of creeped the hits when we kind of needed to.”

The Vikings were able to collect seven hits off Cunningham, with Merrill providing three and Starbird two more. Moulton pitched a perfect sixth inning.

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Oxford Hills’ delivers a pitch to the plate.Oxford Hills’ pitcher Madi Day hits a triple yesterday at the Gouin Complex in South Paris.Oxford Hills’ Anna Piirainen puts the tag on Bangor’s Lexi Cunningham yesterday at the Gouin Complex in South Paris.Oxford Hills starting pitcher Lauren Merrill unleashes a delivery during a 4-0 win over Bangor in South Paris on Saturday.Oxford Hills’ Makayla Starbird slides into home ahead of the tage by Bangor catcher Morgan Kimball during the Vikings’ 4-0 win in South Paris on Saturday.Oxford Hills catcher Anna Piirainen tags out Bangor’s Lexi Cunningham at home while the Vikings’ bench, including Jenna Silver (3) looks on during a 4-0 win for Oxford Hills in South Paris on Saturday.Oxford Hills shortstop Kaisa Heikkinen reaches for a shallow fly ball as left fielder Madison Day provides backup during the Vikings’ 4-0 win over Bangor in South Paris on Saturday.

Oxford Hills’ Lauren Merrill delivers a pitch to the plate.


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