PLYMOUTH — The John Stark Regional High School softball team had never won an NHIAA title until last June.
Now — thanks in large part to sophomore pitcher Izabella Nelson — the Generals own a pair of championship plaques.
Nelson allowed a pair of singles and struck out 10 batters to lead No. 4 John Stark to a 3-1 title game win over No. 3 Merrimack Valley on Saturday evening on Chase Field at Plymouth State University.
To repeat was nice.
“I think this one was so much more sweeter because last year there were a couple of Milford girls just joking around that we only won a state championship because they weren’t in the tournament,” Nelson said. “Beating them in semifinals and then coming in and beating Merrimack Valley, that made the championship so much sweeter.”
The game matched sophomore pitchers.
Merrimack Valley’s Sadie Barton gave up five hits.
The Pride scratched for the first run of the game in the bottom of the second.
Junior Molly McLaughlin led off with a single to left field and came around to score without another hit for the 1-0 lead.
John Stark strung together three hits — the big blow a Nelson triple to left field that one-hopped the fence by — and took advantage of a couple of errors to score two runs in the bottom of the fifth. The Generals sent eight batters to the plate in the inning.
John Stark got a little insurance in the top of the seventh when Brooke Patnode hustled to second on an outfield error and then scored on a wild pitch.
Nelson gave up little through the game.
Merrimack Valley junior third baseman Miah Boucher was the team’s only player to reach base after the second inning on a single in the third and walk in the sixth. She got to second on Sadie Merrow’s sacrifice bunt in the sixth, but Nelson got a couple of fly outs to end the inning.
Merrimack Valley had only two baserunners after it scored in the second, one on a single in the third and the other a walk in the bottom of the sixth.
Nelson, the winning pitcher in last year’s title run, was key again.
“She’s just been solid there for two years,” said coach Gerry Morin. “I guarantee you she’ll be stronger next year. She developed a second pitch this year. The changeup was really starting to work for her. She throws a fastball to location and she has a curve, too. But the changeup was big this year. People were starting to time her, second year in the league.”
Four sophomore starters from this season, along with three juniors, will be back next year, led by Nelson.
“We’re not done,” said Nelson, whose sister Sydney is a junior first baseman. “We have two more coming.”
Don’t count her out, Morin said.
“Since Day 1, Izzie just has always wanted to win,” Morin said. “She does not want to give up. If she could pitch the ball and then run out to play shortstop, she would. She just fights. Freshman, sophomore, it doesn’t matter. That’s just Izzie.”
And that’s just another title.