As the NHIAA spring season continues, one of the more intriguing races to keep an eye on is Division II softball. Milford continues to set the standard in the division with a 9-0 record heading into today, but the Spartans’ success was expected.
What people might not have recognized is the narrowing gap between Milford and the handful of clubs on the Spartans’ coattails.
Souhegan of Amherst and Pelham are both cruising at 8-1 on the year while a slew of teams sit at seven wins, including Goffstown and Merrimack Valley.
“I think our division has been kind of spreading in this direction for a couple seasons now,” said Souhegan coach Andrea Bruneau of the growing competition. “When you’re looking at the top of the standings right now, though, it really comes down to who can execute a game plan and adjust to the pitching on a given day.”
Milford has a leg up on the competition due in large to starting pitcher Delaney Parker, who was a revelation for Spartans coach Jim Rines en route to last season’s D-II title and has assumed the role of the league’s top pitcher. Souhegan’s Hailey Yabroudy and Pelham’s Shannon Morin join the discussion of top pitchers, but the league lacks one dominant hurler.
“Unless someone is hiding somewhere, nobody has that overpowering arm,” Pelham coach Todd Lozeau said. “It’s something that all the coaches I’ve talked to have noticed. It definitely leaves the door open for a well-balanced team that’s hitting their stride at the right time.”
The Pythons are hoping to keep building on their early fortunes and take advantage of the parity. Morin’s efforts on the rubber and at the plate have been important, while Sarah Ratcliffe continues to rake. The duo are among nine regulars hitting over .300 for Pelham, with Emily Bevens also providing noteworthy contributions at the plate.
“We don’t get flustered and that tells you a lot about this good group,” Lozeau said. “The lineup is very talented and one of the best we’ve had. We’ve been fortunate to have that moving up (from Division III) this year.”
Pelham still has a ways to go, though, with two games against Milford left on the schedule and one against 4-4 Windham, which can never be overlooked.
Souhegan beat Pelham on May 4 and held Milford to its lowest offensive output thus far in a 4-1 loss on April 19. The Sabers were without Yabroudy in that game against the Spartans and turned to freshman Cammy Whitney for her first varsity start, where she allowed just three hits and struck out nine.
“We’ve played Milford competitively every season but when you go into a game against a team you know is strong, it’s easy to get up and leave it all out there,” said Bruneau, who is in the midst of her final season coaching the Sabers. “I try to emphasize playing with confidence and the idea of focusing on effort over outcome. You can’t focus on how good the other team is and lose track of yourselves.”
Bruneau has gotten the most out of her squad, especially with the bats. Souhegan has scored double-digit runs in five of nine games and three of those games saw run totals of 16,19 and 23. Bruneau pointed to a locked-in quartet atop her lineup, with Maddie Robicheau, Mary Rotthoff, Sam Cushing and Yabroudy setting the tone.
“We lost two very big bats from last year that were consistent and heavy hitters, so that left a question mark,” Bruneau said. “We had Maddie, Sam and Hailey returning and they’ve given us everything we’ve hoped for and more. Then we add Mary, who has been maybe the most dynamic player in our offense, to the No. 2 spot and she did great. Her and Maddie give me speed at the top, and players who get on base and put the ball in play consistently, while Sam and Hailey play the power roles.”
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THERE’S A smattering of Division I college-bound players around New Hampshire who have been somewhat undervalued this season. Exeter junior Cody Morissette tops the list.
Morissette, who committed to Boston College before his sophomore season, has earned some spotlight since joining the Blue Hawks as a freshman and broke out last year both at the plate and on the mound. However, this season he’s had the luxury of continuing his surge without the pressure of all eyes being on him.
“I’m honored to be up there with all the best kids in the state,” Morissette said after Wednesday’s win over Bedford. “It doesn’t mean much to me to be the best player, though. It means more to have a helluva year with this team and make memories I’ll remember the rest of my life.”
Wednesday will be one of those memories after downing the Bulldogs in the battle of unbeatens. Morissette doubled and scored twice, but his handling of the Bedford lineup off the mound was more crucial. It was by no means his best performance, but the righty forced plenty of bad contact while working around a handful of hiccups. The outing was just another building block on what has become a solid pitching resume dating back to last season.
“Last year I was just consistent and it’s carried over this year,” said Morissette, who likely won’t even be pitching in college. “I try to challenge batters. I don’t like to get behind in counts or walk guys. I go after them and let my teammates make plays because I trust every one of them behind me.”
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BRENNEN OXFORD’S ability to throw no-hitters — he tossed his third consecutive no-hitter to help Oyster River of Durham defeat Laconia 4-0 Wednesday — has made him a household name among New Hampshire’s high school baseball fans. Fall Mountain of Langdon’s Kendal Heath, on the other hand, may be the state’s best-kept secret.
Heath, a 6-foot-5 junior, recorded 44 strikeouts in his first three starts this season. That included a perfect game against Newport that featured 16 strikeouts.
Heath took the loss when Fall Mountain (4-6) dropped a 1-0 decision to unbeaten Campbell of Litchfield on Monday, but still drew heavy praise from Campbell coach Jim Gorham.
“He’s the real deal,” Gorham said. “He’s the best right-handed (high school) pitcher I’ve seen here since Jordan Cote.”
Cote pitched for Winnisquam Regional in Tilton and was drafted by the Yankees in 2011.
Heath has allowed two earned runs in four starts this year.
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PINKERTON ACADEMY of Derry (10-3) has been winning with pitching this season, and sophomore Mat Albetski has carved out a role as the team’s closer. Albetski picked up his seventh save in eight tries Wednesday when Pinkerton beat Nashua North 2-0.
“He’s throws decently hard and he seems to have the right type of mentality, so we tried him (as a closer) in one game and he seems to like the role,” Pinkerton coach Steve Campo said. “It’s his until he loses it.”
The Astros have allowed four runs in their last seven victories.
High School Baseball/Softball appears in Fridays in the New Hampshire Union Leader during the season. To reach Joe Duball or Roger Brown, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.