Tristen Derenburger, left, and Maddy Miller are two of the three seniors on the Oxford Hills softball team hoping that their experience and leadership, along with their on-field play, will help earn the Vikings earn a state championship this weekend against Cheverus. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The impact of the seniors on the Oxford Hills softball team is made as much off the field as on it.

Oxford Hills outfielder Gabby Wright catches a fly ball for the last out of the first inning during the Class A North softball championship game against Skowhegan on Tuesday at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. Wright is one of three seniors hoping to help the Vikings win a state championship this weekend. Brewster Burns photo

Maddy Miller, Tristen Derenburger and Gabby Wright will play their final high school softball game when the Vikings (17-2) take on Cheverus (18-1) in the Class A state title game at Central Maine Community College in Auburn on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Normally, a team’s core is made up of upperclassmen who are supported by underclassmen. But almost half of Oxford Hills’ roster is a group of talented sophomores. So the three seniors, though talented, play more of a supporting role.

Derenburger, Miller and Wright have experience and the knowledge that comes with it, such as insight into playing in big games, such as regional and state finals — not just in softball, but basketball and field hockey as well.

“Everyone on this team knows their role, and I think our job is to keep everyone unified, which isn’t a problem — we all get along and have a great time together,” Miller said. “For us three, we have that in-game experience, even if it’s in other sports. I think we sort of help calm everyone down if the anxiety gets high and stuff like that. Our sophomores and juniors are so impressive, they don’t need as much help.”

Derenburger also played field hockey and basketball, and said she experienced seven regional final games in her career. Wright played on the field hockey team, while Miller also played soccer and basketball.

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During the three seniors’ careers, the Oxford Hills girls basketball team has played in regional finals and won the 2023 state championship, and the field hockey team reached regional finals in 2021 and ’22.

Miller, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School’s valedictorian, mentioned in her speech during last week’s graduation the guilt she felt for walking in the winning run in a Class A North semifinal loss to Skowhegan in 2022. She wants to be there for her teammates if they make a similar mistake in a big contest.

“You have to rely on your teammates, you have to rely on your community, and fall back on each other,” Miller said. “Without that, the weight can be too much on your shoulders. When you look to others, we were able to move on and be the best version of ourselves.”

One of the things sophomore pitcher Kyeria Morse said she has learned from the three seniors is that the entire team is in it together — whether things are going well or they just lost a big game.

“Definitely strength, we have to connect and this is basically family right here,” Morse said. “It might be softball, but this is my family on the field.”

Coach Cindy Goddard said the seniors’ ability to make everyone feel included is important to the team dynamic.

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“Especially with females, you have to make everyone feel included in being a part of a team,” Goddard said. “… Gabby and Tristen are very nurturing young ladies that bring the group together and make sure everything is nice and smooth.”

Derenburger said when this year’s sophomores entered high school in 2023, it was clear they were going to be the ones leading the Vikings deep into the playoffs. And they have. In their two seasons, Oxford Hills has won two Class A North championships and is set to play in its second state final.

“Other sports, we were probably producing the most — juniors and seniors stepped up the most,” Derenburger said. “We knew this coming in last year and we were fully OK with it. We would rather play less and get further. They are really experienced, and they are probably the best softball class to come through Oxford Hills.”

Take Morse, for example. She pitched the Vikings into Saturday’s state championship game by no-hitting Skowhegan in the 2-0 win in the A North final. She also is the team leader in key offensive categories, such as batting average (.511), home runs (three) and runs batted in (26).

“I am a leader a little bit. But, honestly, we have been all leaders through this whole thing,” Morse said. “We are all here together, and we all connect very well. We all have been there together.”

Four of the Vikings’ top five RBI leaders are sophomores. After Morse is Sam McPhail in second, with 16, and Cameron Mayhan third with 14, while Miller and sophomore Atalie Campbell are tied for fourth with 13 RBIs.

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“They are playing so much softball,” Goddard said of the sophomore class. “A kid who’s a sophomore nowadays has probably played a lot more softball than a kid in the ’80s or the ’90s, with the summer ball and travel. They are playing year-round. They have played a lot of softball already.”

The sophomores have played so much softball that they give pointers to the older players.

“We have been taught a lot of things,” Derenburger said. “… These guys came in, none of them are nervous, they are all great out there. They are all phenomenal players. Even sometimes our younger players will give advice to our older players, or give advice on what we should do in certain drills to be the best we can be.”

Morse said part of the reason the sophomores feel comfortable offering advice to the veterans is the players are all friends, no matter the age gap.

“I am super close with all of them,” Morse said. “Especially with (Tristen), Maddy and Gabby. I am close with all of them, even (outside) of softball. I have known them and they come to my house and hit off the tee.”

Miller, the Vikings’ third basemen, has the second-highest batting average, .479, with 23 hits, including five doubles and three triples. She will be playing softball at Bates College next season.

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“For so long, I have been toying with the idea of playing a sport in college, and I had this great opportunity come to me,” Miller said of joining the Bobcats. “I am so thankful for it, and I am excited to continue my career in college.”

Miller also said softball helped her not be timid and not dwell on mistakes she makes.

Derenburger and Wright split time in left field. They complement each other well.

“Her and Tristen, they have their own little thing,” Goddard said. “Gabby might read the ball a little bit better, but Tristen is more of a power hitter and Gabby is more of a base hitter. They split their role, and they are a part of the team.

“That’s the key part — they have accepted their roles.”

In 25 plate appearances, Wright has a .313 average with three RBIs, while Derenburger is batting .321 and has driven in five runs in 30 appearances at the plate.

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Derenburger knows when Goddard puts her in, it’s because of her veteran experience.

“Fielding-wise, are you playing it clean — are there errors? If so, how many are there?” Derenburger said. “Batting-wise, are you being smart up to at-bat? Are you moving people?”

The seniors are willing to do anything to bring home a state championship, the program’s first since winning back-to-back titles in 1998-99.

“It doesn’t bother any of us,” Derenburger. “We would rather see team success with the people that need to play rather than people who are less experienced.”

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