Oxford Hills pitcher Lauren Merrill (6) holds up her hand in victory after striking out Skowhegan’s Wylie Bedard (15) to win the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)

WINSLOW — Scoring four runs against Skowhegan proved to be impossible during the regular season, but Oxford Hills plated four in one inning against the Indians in Tuesday’s Class A North softball regional final.

And the offensive outburst came at just the right time for the Vikings.

The Indians finally got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game, but the Vikings answered with their four-run frame in the top of the sixth to knock off the defending regional champs, 7-3, at LaVerdiere Field.

“I guess for me the highlight was when Skowhegan tied it up 3-3, and all of a sudden we answer with four runs,” Vikings coach Cindy Goddard said. “That was big, because they haven’t given up that much runs all season, so to know, ‘Now we just got to kind of shut down the door.'”

The top-seeded Indians (18-1) got runners to second in both the sixth and the seventh, but second-seeded Vikings pitcher Lauren N. Merrill struck out batters looking to end the frames.

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Both starting pitchers shut down potential scoring opportunities in the first inning. The Vikings got a pair of hits off Indians senior Ashley Alward, but a strikeout — one of 12 for Alward — and a pop-up back to the pitcher ended that threat. While it didn’t result in any runs, producing base runners early gave the Vikings confidence at the plate early.

“I felt like once we got on that first inning, I knew that it was going to be a good hitting game, and I knew we were on her since that first inning,” Merrill said.

The Vikings sophomore starter admitted to getting a little nervous in the bottom of the frame when the Indians put two runners of their own on, and got them to second and third with two outs. But a flyout to left field kept the game scoreless after one.

Oxford Hills (16-3) struck first in the top of the second, using a leadoff walk by Kaisa Heikkinen, a wild pitch, an error, and a sacrifice bunt from No. 9 hitter Brooke Carson to plate the game’s first run.

Merrill, meanwhile, kept the Indians’ offense quiet until the fifth, allowing just two walks from the second through the fourth.

More Skowhegan errors led to more Oxford Hills runs in the top of the fifth.

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Madison Starbird and Madison Day both reached on two-out errors. Starbird came around to score. A Kenzie Kahkonen walk and another error loaded the bases, then Day scored when Alward’s strikeout pitch to Heikkinen got away, making it 3-0.

A leadoff walk by Mariah Dunbar jump-started the Indians’ offense in the bottom of the inning. Alyssa Everett then bunted for Skowhegan’s first hit of the game, and Sydney Ames doubled both runners in. A sacrifice fly from Alward two batters later tied the game 3-3.

“I thought we tied it up, we needed to get out of the next inning pretty clean, and instead we allow a couple of base runners on in the bottom part of the order,” Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson said. “That changes the game completely.”

The Vikings earned their hits against Alward in the sixth. Haley Dillingham led off with a double, Carson singled and Ashley Childs was intentionally walked. Starbird singled in two runs, then Day singled home two more to give Oxford Hills what proved to be an insurmountable lead.

“We worked really hard on hitting,” Goddard said. “You try to get the jugs machine flying as fast as it can go, so you can at least know when the speed’s coming, and try to work on being disciplined because we know that she has a great rise-ball, and she’s a great pitcher.”

“They just have a deep lineup. They have a real deep lineup,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of kids that have the ability to hit the ball hard, and we knew that right from the get-go. It was sort of their offense against our pitching, and I think our defenses were similar to a point, but today they hit a lot of balls hard that we struggled to manage.”

Merrill scattered five hits and three walks, while striking out four — including the final two batters of the game. Alward gave up six hits and walked three. Five of the seven runs she allowed were earned.

The regional title is the Vikings’ first since winning back-to-back state championships in 1998-99. They’ll face defending Class A state champion Scarborough in Saturday’s state final at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.

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Oxford Hills celebrates its victory over Skowhegan in the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Oxford Hills pitcher Lauren Merrill (6), right center, hugs catcher Lauren Merrill (2) catcher after defeating Skowhegan in the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Skowhegan pitcher Ashley Alward (7) tries to make a play on a hard hit ball by Oxford Hills’ Kaisa Heikkinen (4) in the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Oxford Hills’ Ashley Child (14) slides safely in to third base before Skowhegan third baseman Lindsey Warren can apply the tag in the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Oxford Hills’ Ashley Child (14) slides safely in to third base before Skowhegan third baseman Lindsey Warren can apply the tag in the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)Skowhegan’s Mraiah Dunbar (9) dives back to second base before Oxford Hills’ Kaisa Heikkinen (4) can apply the tag in the Class A North softball championship game at Winslow High School on Tuesday. (Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel)

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