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Conant softball hands Mascenic first loss in strange, thrilling contest

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Mascenic softball team hosted Conant on Friday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Saturday, May 05, 2018 2:6PM

Friday’s highly anticipated softball showdown between Conant and Mascenic had it all: two terrific pitching performances, clutch hits, and one of the strangest plays you’ll ever see on the diamond. When all was said and done, the Orioles left New Ipswich with a win, and the Vikings had their first loss of the season.

“I’m as happy as they are,” said Conant head coach Wiley Billings, victorious in his first visit to Mascenic as an opponent. “I’m like a kid right now. That’s a big win! They’re a favorite, there’s no doubt in my mind that they’re a favorite. But they’re like any other team - if they make a mistake, you have to capitalize on it, and we capitalized on their mistakes today.”

Conant got their first run on a defensive miscue. Viking starter Maddie Labrie cruised through the first three innings, allowing just two baserunners while striking out seven (she’d finish with 14). She’d pitch herself into trouble in the fourth, however, when she walked opposing pitcher Brenna Welch to open the frame and gave up a single to Silas Bernier that got Welch to third, where Abby Friend relieved her as a courtesy runner. With two outs, Conant’s Hannah Carey dropped down a bunt; Friend broke for the plate, Labrie fielded the ball and tried a barehand flip to home instead of taking the out at first, and everyone was safe, Conant up 1-0.

Mascenic didn’t take long to answer back, evening things up in the bottom of the inning. Melonie Ojala led off with a single off Welch; Sam Bilodeau sacrificed her over to second, and she’d score on a Sydney Letters single to center, which dropped just in front of a diving Bernier.

The Vikings set up another Conant scoring opportunity in the fifth. Labrie drilled leadoff hitter Karissa Oakes with a stinging fastball to her back knee; Oakes went down on the plate, in pain but laughing it off, and was replaced by runner Kayla Whitcomb. Whitcomb advanced from first to third on passed ball and a dropped throw to the pitcher and then scored on a Manea Aho single. Skyler Tenney and Welch both walked, as Labrie, fighting a flexible strike zone, searched for command of her changeup. 

That brought Bernier back up to the plate with the bases juiced.

“There’s definitely a little bit of intimidation,” Bernier said of facing Mascenic’s fearsome hurler, “but I tell myself mentally just to slow down, one step at a time.”

Bernier smashed one to center field and drove in two to put Conant up 4-1.

“Lately in our practices, we’ve been focusing on hitting, and I’ve been doing pretty well,” Bernier said, “so I think it just translated into the game and that’s what we wanted.”

Welch kept on getting outs, allowing just a walk and a single in the fifth and sixth, and though she was tiring, she came back out for the seventh with a 4-1 lead.

“She was getting tired, she threw a lot of pitches, but she wanted to gut it out,” Billings said.

That’s when things started getting weird. Mascenic right-fielder Braelyn Case led off the inning with a single up the middle. Labrie followed that up with a single that got Case to second and brought up Shelby Babin with no outs. Babin hit a fly ball to left, where Carey made the catch on the move. Case tagged up and broke for third, and Carey rocketed the ball in to Tenney, who swiped the sliding Case, making an out in a cloud of dust.

Mascenic coach Dutch Stauffeneker pulled Case aside and gave her a talking-to about tagging up on a ball to left, and all eyes were on the baserunning blunder and the subsequent great play by Carey and Tenney. Meanwhile, Babin stayed on first base, despite having flown out. Incredibly, this went virtually unnoticed, a few fans and coaches murmuring about it, but not loud enough to alert the home plate umpire.

Ojala would walk; then, Conant catcher Madison Picard allowed a passed ball, which was compounded by throwing it away. Labrie and Babin scored; once Babin crossed the plate, it was finally obvious that she should never have been on base in the first place, and Billings came out to challenge.

“I’ve never seen that,” Billings said, “never seen that.”

Babin’s run was not counted, Labrie’s was, making it 4-2. Sam Bilodeau reached on an error that scored Ojala, and somehow, Mascenic had the winning run at the plate with two outs.

“I told them I’m proud of how they didn’t lay down, and they fought to get that tying run to third and the winning run to the plate,” Stauffeneker said after the game.

Jordyn Babin popped out, and the game was over, a 4-3 complete game win for Welch and the Orioles. 

“It's definitely amazing,” Bernier said, after her first taste of the Mascenic/Conant rivalry. “Knowing the tension –  these are our enemies, I guess you could say, so it was nice being able to get a win today.”

For Conant, it was a big win, improving them to 5-1, with the only blemish a loss to Division I team Keene.

For Mascenic, it was a wakeup call that Stauffeneker said the Vikings sorely needed after their their 7-0 start. Prior to Friday, Mascenic’s hadn’t played a closer game than their 11-0 win over Prospect Mountain, outscoring opponents 127-11 to open the year – in other words, all their opponents’ runs combined wouldn’t have beaten them in their worst game. Now, their eyes are open to the intensity of playoff-level competition.

“That was exactly my fear: How would we react when we got into a close game?”Stauffeneker said. “So that was the best thing that could happen to this team. Not that we needed a loss, but we needed to be challenged. Everybody else is putting us up on this pedestal - I'm certainly not, because I know what we have. We can't just lean on Maddie to strike out 18 batters a night.”

The two teams will play each other again at Conant on May 25.

“I think if we stick together like we did today, we can definitely take another win,” Bernier said.

Conant turned around and played Raymond on Saturday, winning in a blowout, 20-2. Manea Aho pitched and got the win;  Bernier went 4-4, Camri and Manea Aho had three hits each, and Welch had four. Conant hosts Franklin Monday at 4 p.m.

Mascenic (7-1) hosts Prospect Mountain Monday at 4 p.m.