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Ready up: Baseball and softball previews for Mascenic, Conant, ConVal and Wilton-Lyndeborough

  • Skyler Tenney of Conant Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Melonie Ojala of Mascenic. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Janel Bachand of Wilton-Lyndeborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Lizzie Nute of ConVal. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Tim Burgess of ConVal. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Corbin Sasner of Conant. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Drew Rines of Mascenic. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Shane Partridge of Wilton-Lyndeborough. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, April 09, 2018 11:59AM

Forget about all that April snow — it’s time to hit the diamond. Every single local team has the talent to improve on last year, which means the region could have some more Final Four appearances, and maybe even a state championship. Here’s everything you need to know for Opening Day.

SoftballMascenic

Head coach: Dutch Stauffeneker

Last year’s record: 18-4 (lost in championship game to White Mountains)

Dutch Stauffeneker’s Vikings have a state title on their minds. After a trip to the Final Four in 2016 and a tough loss in last year’s championship game against White Mountains, Mascenic should be right back in the hunt this spring.

“We’ve got some playoff experience and the expectations are that we would be back there,” Stauffeneker said.

Unassuming fireballer Maddie Labrie is the key to Mascenic’s success. The junior pitcher – so focused she can throw a no-hitter and not find out about it until well after the final out – has already amassed 341 strikeouts in two years and is likely to hit the hallowed 500-strikeout mark this season.

“500 is attainable,” Stauffeneker said, “[but] she just wants to win a state championship – as much as I do.”

The Vikings will miss the big bat and stellar catching of Raven Comtois, who moved to Milford, but Mascenic still returns seven starters, including four seniors with loads of experience.

Sam Bilodeau will come in from the outfield and play catcher and pitch from time to time. Sydney Letters returns to second base, Jordyn Babin owns shortstop and Melonie Ojala is back in left field, where she thrived after moving from third last season.

Shelby Babin took over the hot corner last year and looked good, doing all the little things and playing steady defense.

“She’s kind of a quiet little assassin,” Stauffeneker said.

Junior Braelyn Case is getting a look at first base in an effort to get speedy soph Sam Hughson into centerfield; if Hughson ends up the best option for the infield, Case will join Avery McClain in the outfield.

Mascenic’s mettle will be tested early. The Vikings were scheduled to start at Monadnock on Monday at 4 p.m., after press time; they travel to Kearsarge Wednesday at 4 p.m. and then host Campbell Friday at 4. Mascenic has beaten Campbell in four straight games, including knocking the Cougars out of the Final Four last year.

“They’ll be hungry for sure,” Stauffeneker said. “They’ll be a good early season test.”

Conant

Head coach: Wiley Billings (first year)

Last year’s record: 14-5 (lost in semifinals to White Mountains)

The Orioles were a sixth-inning meltdown away from beating White Mountains in the semifinals last year, and they have the team to get back there again in 2018.

“We’re going to go as far as our pitching and defense takes us,” said new head coach Wiley Billings, who moves up from the middle school after losing just two games in two years at JRMS. “We’re going to be able to compete with everybody.”

Back after a year off, Madison Picard will be behind the plate. Her return is huge for the Orioles as it allows senior Skyler Tenney to move from catcher to shortstop and lead the charge in the infield. On her right is Brooke Holombo at third; Karissa Oakes won the second base spot and Brenna Welch is in at first.

Junior Camri Aho is in left, with soph Silas Bernier in center and senior Hannah Carey in right.

That very sturdy lineup is bolstered by a stellar pitching staff. Both Camri and Manea Aho are tough hurlers and Brenna Welch can deal it as well, giving Conant a three-headed pitching attack as good as any they’ll face.

“Any team that has three really good pitchers - you’re a happy camper if you have that,” Billings said. “Anyone who knows softball knows it starts with pitching.”

Conant’s opener Monday at Kearsarge was postponed. The Orioles are scheduled to play at Raymond Tuesday at 4 p.m.

ConVal

Head coach: Amanda Hinton

Last year’s record: 4-12 (missed playoffs)

“Playoffs. That’s our goal,” said ConVal head coach Amanda Hinton. The Cougars haven’t seen the postseason in four years, and they’re hoping to change that this year. To do so, Hinton has plans to keep opponents on their heels by throwing two or three pitchers every game.

“We don’t any batters to see a pitcher more than once,” Hinton said. “Definitely not more than twice.”

ConVal has four strong pitchers in Lizzie Nute, Haley Cheviot, Rachyl Parslow and Jaden Hubbard-Lemay, who transferred from Wilton-Lyndeborough this year.

Shannon Allen and Eliza Fiore will share catching duties, depending on who’s pitching.

Hubbard-Lemay is an excellent first baseman and she’ll start there opening day. Cheviot plays short and Natalia Hautenan is at third, though that shuffles when Cheviot pitches and Nute takes third.

Parslow starts in left field and Sarah Dauphinais is in center. Right field and second base were still up for grabs as of Saturday, as a slew of ConVal’s underclassmen are fighting for the two spots. The Cougars have only three seniors: Hautenan, Nute and Dauphinais.

Hinton said her team will be mentally tougher this year and will look to improve on their defense.

“A pitcher doesn’t make or break our team,” Hinton said, “our defense has to hold up strong, so every single person’s an important member of our team and they all have to give 100 percent on every single play.”

ConVal is scheduled to host Souhegan Wednesday at 4 p.m.

Wilton-Lyndeborough

Head coach: Denny Claire

Last year’s record: 11-8 (lost in semifinals to Derryfield)

The Warriors were supposed to have a down year in 2017, but the young team with zero seniors played their way to the Final Four, where they were a run away from upsetting Derryfield.

“We definitely overachieved last year,” said head coach Denny Claire, now in his 31st season as the Warriors’ skipper. “We just happened to click at the right time.”

Whether or not WLC can recapture that magic this spring remains to be seen. Like most teams, the Warriors have been cooped up in the gym, itching to get outside and find out what they’re really made of.

Junior Lexi Balam is back on the mound for what seems like the tenth season in a row, and Janel Bachand will settle in behind the plate to catch her.

WLC lost a big puzzle piece when Jaden Hubbard-Lemay transferred to ConVal, as she was the team’s best first baseman and the backup pitcher.

Freshman Sam Yurcak has exhibited the most ability at first base, and that’s where she’ll start the season, though Claire would be happy to get the slap-bunting speedster out in the outfield.

Otherwise, the team looks practically the same as last year’s, with one exception – the team’s only senior, Lily Fossie, who played as a freshman before transferring and returns this season. She’s likely in line for an outfield spot, where she’ll join last year’s playoff hero Emma Skelly and Kaitlyn Loverme, with Sophia Sistachs fighting for playing time as well.

The infield is virtually unchanged as well; Rachel Christino’s back at second, Abby LeBlanc at short and Brooke Lane at third.

Two freshmen, Tiffany Cuddihee and Madison Chase, will look to crack the lineup as well.

“We’re just going to try to better than last year,” Claire said, “and if we are, then we’re going back to Plymouth.”

WLC is scheduled to open at home against Nute today at 4 p.m. and host Hinsdale Wednesday at 4.

BaseballMascenic

Head coach: Kevin Rines

Last year’s record: 13-7 (lost to Belmont in quarterfinals)

The Vikings may be fielding their smallest baseball team ever this season. With only 11 players on the roster, Mascenic won’t be deep, but head coach Kevin Rines likes what he sees.

“I think we’re going to be able to compete,” he said. “I’m really excited for this group to get going and see where we’re at.”

The fewer players you have, the more individual reps they get, and the Vikings have been hitting the cages hard as they wait out another fickle New England spring.

Last year’s ace Scott Humphrey is gone, but pitching still looks to be a position of strength for Mascenic this season. The Vikings have two freshman pitchers, Shea Zina and Isaac Rodier, who look promising, as well as three veterans, Drew Rines, Ethan Bilodeau and Justin Smith, who can hurl it as well.

Drew Rines, a senior, will anchor the defense from shortstop. Smith has first base, TJ Hiott is behind the plate and Josh St. John is at the hot corner, though he’s working through injury to start the season and may cede some time to Sam Hiott as a result. Dylan Vaillancourt is slotted at second base.

Bilodeau looks to have an outfield spot, with some combination of Rodier, Sam Hiott and Jason Brundige around him.

“I am very very optimistic to see where we are gonna be,” coach Rines said.

Conant

Head coach: Josh Heaphy

Last year’s record: 14-4 (lost in semifinals to Belmont)

You’d be hard-pressed to find a weak spot in the Oriole lineup this season.

“This year is our most talented across the board,” said head coach Josh Heaphy. Indeed, there’s plenty of experience and skill returning from last year’s Final Four team that was knocked out by Belmont and Pitcher of the Year Cole Contigliani.

That starts with a pair of seniors: lanky ace Corbin Sasner, who has the tools to be one of the division’s top pitchers, and lightning-fast centerfielder Ryan Smith. Sasner will join Smith in the outfield when he’s not on the mound, as will Preston Kirby.

Gavin Ketola returns behind the plate to catch the Orioles. Slugger Jarrod Hart will split time with Troy Aho at first and perhaps DH from time to time as well.

“His bat is tough to take out of the lineup,” Heaphy said.

Steady Aidan Kirby is at second base; Gavin Motuzas has shortstop and Nick Germano will open the season at third.

Freshmen Colson Seppala, a catcher, and Noel Saveall, a pitcher and infielder will likely get some looks this year as well.

Heaphy said he and his team hope to get back to the Final Four again this season.

“Once you get to the Final Four, who knows what could happen?” Heaphy said.

Conant’s opener Monday at Kearsarge was postponed. The Orioles are scheduled to play at Raymond Tuesday at 4 p.m.

Wilton-Lyndeborough

Head coach: Dave Finch

Last year’s record: 7-10 (lost in first round to Hopkinton)

The Warriors made a nice playoff run last season and only lost two seniors, and head coach Dave Finch is looking at running out another competitive team this season.

“We’re pretty fired up,” Finch said.

Leading the way is senior shortstop Jake Levert, who was the team’s best hitter and stolen base leader last year and will slot into the leadoff position.

“Good glove, good hitter, and good baserunner,” Finch said.

Junior Neal Brennan will take over the No. 1 pitcher role; Finch said he’s throwing better than ever and has expanded his mastery of his arsenal of pitches.

Senior Cody Johnson returns to the outfield and hopes to build on last year’s strong second half.

Slugger Shane Partridge is the Warriors’ muscle in the heart of the lineup and will hold down first base.

“We need his big bat,” Finch said.

Owen Hughes is WLC’s best catcher and will likely hold off younger brother Nick, who will find time at DH as a result. Senior Zach Robillard will play all over the diamond in a utility role, as will Dylan Rondeau.

Jacob Boette will play some third base and some outfield; Lucas Johnson and freshman Owen O’Halloran will fight for time as well.

The Warriors have a loaded freshman class, between Kyler Tremblay, a pitcher/infielder, hard-hitting outfielder JJ Leblanc, O’Halloran, and the younger Hughes. And that’s without even mentioning the pair Finch said has made a huge difference already – the Brennan twins, Sean, a starting pitcher, and Troy, a closer.

“We’re pretty optimistic,” Finch said. “I don’t think we’re going to go 16-0 by any means. but if we can keep our heads on and our thoughts together, we could be in some good games.”

WLC is scheduled to open at home against Nute today at 4 p.m. and host Hinsdale Wednesday at 4.

ConVal

Head coach: Mike Marschok

Last year’s record: 6-10 (missed playoffs)

ConVal looks to bounce back from 2017, a down year where the Cougars missed the playoffs despite returning most of a team that advanced to the second round the year prior.

“We didn’t make the playoffs last year so that’s definitely the goal this year,” said head coach Mike Marschok.

ConVal has a trio of seniors out front to set the tone and lead by example. Tim Burgess was All-State in the outfield last year and looks to close out his ConVal career in style this season.

“I hope he finishes strong because this is his last sport,” said Marschok of his three-season athlete.

Casey Burgess was strong on the mound in his first year for ConVal after transferring from Dublin School and he should keep fireballing in his senior season.

“He comes to practice and does his job,” said Marschok.

Outfielder/DH Alex McCall should make some noise at the plate in his final campaign as well.

“He’s a good hitter,” Marschok said, “he’s a very good hitter so we hope good things will come of that this year.”

ConVal has a wealth of pitching talent this year, and if even a few of their starters take a step forward, the Cougar rotation will be dangerous. Junior Jack Plourde got his feet wet last season and looked good, and should be the Cougars’ No. 1. Sophs Connor Buffum and Casey Jordan can hurl it, too. Ben Garfinkle can pitch when he’s not at first base, and both Burgesses will get action on the mound as well.

Junior Manny Bowman, now in his third varsity baseball season, will anchor the defense from shortstop. Buffum’s got third, Garfinkle first, and Duncan Cahoon is the likely second baseman, but Max Davie will press for some time there.

Strong-armed Michael Gutwein starts at catcher as a freshman, and Dylan Pipher and Jordan will fill out the outfield as ConVal forays into their slate of talented Division II opponents.

“I look at every game that we play as a tough game,” Marschok said. “DII is actually pretty tough – pretty close to Division I.”

ConVal opens at home against Souhegan on Wednesday at 4 p.m.