H.S. Baseball/Softball: What can Brown do for Londonderry?
By JOE DUBALL and ROGER BROWN New Hampshire Union Leader
ANY TEAM thinking of winning the Division I softball title probably feels like they’ll have to go through Londonderry High, which is 17-1 and will be the top seed in next week’s D-I tournament. However, the Lancers do have some competition ahead of them. Londonderry coach Wayne MacDougall is just hoping his team won’t be its own worst enemy as it has been the past few seasons.
Despite garnering a top-four seed each of the last three seasons, the Lancers have won just one playoff game during that stretch. The drought includes bowing out in last year’s quarterfinals after receiving a first-round bye as the tournament’s top seed.
“If we can just play the same as we have during the regular season, then we’ll be fine, but it’s something we haven’t been able to do in the past,” MacDougall said. “It’s been painful the last two years especially. We lost to good teams, but we had good teams. You can’t afford mistakes in this single-elimination tournament.”
MacDougall added that this current group of Lancers understands they have no excuses not to succeed given what they’ve done in the regular season. As it takes a 16-game winning streak into today’s regular-season finale, Londonderry has allowed three runs or fewer in 15 of those wins, including five shutouts, while scoring nine runs or more in 10 wins.
Starter Ila Brown has an earned run average around 1.50 for the season as she’s taken charge in the circle for Londonderry. The offense has come from an assortment of players; Lauren Misiazek, Sarah Fawcett, Cassidy Raza and Emily Nelson have been regular contributors.
It’s hard to argue that Brown isn’t the most important player to Londonderry’s playoff hopes given the value of pitching in the postseason. MacDougall pointed to Misiazek, who’s hitting around .600 on the season, as the Lancers’ key piece to making a title run though.
“She’s just deadly with two strikes and two outs,” MacDougall said. “I really think she’s almost better in those tight situations than she is with a fresh count. The numbers might even say so when you look. So she’s going to be the one we’re going to count on and hope we have up in those big moments.”
Joining the Lancers with any kind of say the D-I title conversation are Winnacunnet of Hampton, Concord, Spaulding of Rochester, Alvirne of Hudson and Pinkerton of Derry. The Warriors and Crimson Tide both pose the greatest threats because, like Londonderry with Brown, both teams have an elite pitcher to get them by. Macie Harkovich has been steady for Winnacunnet all year, but Concord ace Abby Rochette has been, without question, the best pitcher in the league.
Concord fits Londonderry’s mold as Rochette is backed by an offense that has very few holes and can make the opposition pay with anyone at the plate.
“They’re the most dangerous team in my mind,” MacDougall said of Concord. “You just look at the way they’ve gone at teams and the roll that they’re on with Abby. They didn’t even throw her against us and I couldn’t tell you why, but I know facing her is not going to be easy.”
PORTSMOUTH HAS won six of the last 10 Division II baseball titles, and is the clear-cut favorite to win this year’s Division II championship as well. At least that’s what opposing Division II coaches are saying.
“Portsmouth is playing a different sport right now,” Windham coach Leo Gravel said. “They’re head and shoulders. Depth of the lineup, one through nine, and when (Trevor) Van Allen is on the mound he’s as good as I’ve seen in this league. You’re hard-pressed to get one or two runs off of him and they’re usually going to put up a touchdown or two, so that’s a tough combination to overcome.
“The way they score, if they have a very good No. 2 and No. 3 (pitcher), which I’m sure they do, they’re going to be all right because they’re going to score off just about anybody.”
Portsmouth, which beat Souhegan to win last year’s title, will enter the tournament with a 15-1 record and secured the only bye in 15-team tournament field.
Van Allen, a senior, tossed a no-hitter in Wednesday’s 9-0 victory over Souhegan. He struck out 12 in that game and raised his record to 7-0.
“You gotta say they’re the favorite,” Goffstown coach Adam Lawrence said. “They should be the favorite every year. Hopley (Portsmouth coach Tim Hopley) does a good job with those guys. They know how to win and they’re playing their best baseball, so you have to say those guys are the favorite.”
MILFORD HAS the Division II softball playoff race by the throat these days. The top-seeded Spartans enter next week’s tournament undefeated and have won 21 straight dating back to last season. Jenna DeAngelis is hitting her stride out of the circle at just the right time while the offense, which posted 34 runs in a win on Monday, chugs along with the likes of Raven Comtois, Abby Stillwagon and Paige Delire propelling things.
The momentum and pedigree is there for the Spartans, but a coronation at this point might be premature with some other solid teams gunning for them in the single-elimination format. Pembroke and John Stark of Weare are chief among those with eyes toward eventually knocking off Milford, which will likely come in the semifinals or finals with Pembroke and John Stark both holding top-three seeding.
Pembroke and John Stark will first rely on their pitching, which has been strong all season. Stephanie Berube (Pembroke) and Izzy Nelson (John Stark) have each offered quiet dominance during the regular season and haven’t showed signs of letting up during their teams’ stretch runs. Offensively, Pembroke features a one-two punch of Olivia Langevin and Olivia McCarty that has given teams fits all season. John Stark has relied on the Nelson family to spark its offense as Izzy has backed her pitching while her older sister, Sydney, has provided a steady bat.
As is the case in most years, pitching will undoubtedly take a team far in this tournament. That said, Abbey Bass (St. Thomas Aquinas) and Shannon Gifford (Goffstown) could thrust their teams from the middle of the postseason pack with enough momentum and support from their offenses.
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THE LONDONDERRY baseball team lost seven of its first 10 games, but will enter today’s contest against Nashua North having won six in a row and eight of its last nine.
One of the reasons for the turnaround has been improved pitching and defense. The Lancers have allowed 10 runs during their six-game winning streak and have held five of their six opponents during that stretch to two runs or fewer.
“We went from averaging six walks a game to just over one walk a game,” Londonderry coach Brent Demas said. “Our pitchers were underperforming and had a gut check. The results are we aren’t putting undue pressure on our defense and offense, and the guys are just playing.”
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SOPHOMORE PITCHER Lacey McNeel is one of the main reasons the Newport softball team is unbeaten through 13 games and has a chance to win the program’s first state championship this season. McNeel has allowed six earned runs (0.55) in those 13 contests, and has 121 strikeouts with nine walks.
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TRYOUTS FOR the Underwood Junior Game will be held June 12 and June 13 at Londonderry High School (3-5 p.m.). Any junior currently on a varsity roster is eligible to play in the nine-inning game, which will take place June 16 at St. Anselm College (11 a.m.).
High School Baseball/Softball appears Fridays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball or Roger Brown, e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.