×

New England Diamond Gems take softball by storm

  • Local stars of the New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team: Maddie Labrie, left, Brenna Welch, Raven Comtois and Lexi Balam. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • Raven Comtois gives her New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball teammates Lexi Balam, Maddie Labrie, Abby Rochette and Brenna Welch some fielding practice before their tournament game in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The New England Diamond Gems 18U National Gold softball team plays in a tournament in Lowell, Massachusetts on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, July 23, 2018 2:1PM

Wherever the barnstorming New England Diamond Gems go, they take the field with an embarrassment of riches. The elite summer softball team gets the best and brightest of New Hampshire and showcases the young stars for all to see.

Look around as the 18U National Gold Team runs out onto the field in Lowell, Massachusetts for a sunny summer tripleheader against other all-stars from Maine and Connecticut. There’s Division I Pitcher of the Year and Gatorade Player of the Year Abby Rochette of Concord on the mound. Behind the plate is Division II Player of the Year Raven Comtois of Milford. In the outfield? That’s Division III Pitcher of the Year Maddie Labrie of Mascenic in center and Division IV Player of the Year Lexi Balam of Wilton-Lyndeborough in left. They’re all out there chasing the same dream – playing college softball.

“I want to play in college and I think a lot of other girls are the same,” said Brenna Welch, a star pitcher for Conant who plays third base for the Gems. “Seeing the competition that we’re going to play against in college is preparing us.” Welch had been in the Diamond Gems programs since she was 10; now approaching her junior year of high school, she has her sights set on the next level.

“They’re very serious,” said Diamond Gems head coach Jim Rines of his all-star ensemble. “It’s a recruiting season for them...it’s a very big recruiting piece for them, so obviously they’ve got to perform well and show well for the college coaches.”

On this Saturday, scouts and coaches dot the landscape at Lowell’s McPherson Playground. A representative from Rivier is on hand to check out Welch during the Gems’ morning game; in the afternoon, there are scouts from Wheaton and SNHU behind the backstop.

“It’s a little stressful,” said Labrie, who’s been getting plenty of looks from colleges this summer as she readies for her senior year of pitching for Mascenic. “It makes me really nervous, but after a while you get used to it. Your adrenaline goes up so that’s when you start throwing harder.”

Just getting the coaches and scout to the games shows a level of maturity rare for the high schooler. Players have to take the initiative to reach out to schools they’re interested in and get them to nearby tournaments. The Gems have taken trips to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia Beach this summer, networking with coaches along the way in hopes of being seen.

“It’s not like the baseball major leagues where a scout’s just going to show up and say ‘Hey, I like that kid, he throws 95,’ Rines said. “That’s not what softball does. The kids have to reach out to the coaches, invite them to the tournaments, see them and build that relationship.”

The summer softball format is a lot different from the high school season; games are timed, and rarely go the full seven innings, and when a college coach wants to see a certain player in a certain position, Rines complies, midgame, to get his players the exposure. The level of competition is a lot higher, too, as the 18U age range can mean a high school sophomore or junior is facing a pitcher about to enter her sophomore year of college. So, the games aren’t as much about winning and losing, or even getting big hits.

“Attitude and effort, that’s it,” said Comtois, who earned Division II Player of the Year honors for Rines’ Milford High team this year. “If I make a mistake, laugh it off and move on to the next play. Effort-wise, lay out for anything that comes toward me.”

The Gems can make noise against even the most elite competition, and they make some impressive plays out there under the spotlight. There’s Balam rounding the bases on an inside-the-park home run; there’s Labrie in center, throwing a laser to Comtois to get a runner at the plate; there’s Welch with a perfect scoop and throw on a slap hit to third.

Balam’s already verbally committed to play at Smith College; though she’ll still have to get into the school academically (“fingers crossed,” she said), the hardest part is likely over. If she wanted to, she could spend her summer goofing off, swimming, with no responsibilities, no practices. But for her and the rest of the Diamond Gems, the bigger picture is in focus.

“Obviously it takes away time from other things, but I’m glad I’m doing it,” Balam said. “It’s enjoyable and it’s putting me on the path to college. I love softball but it’s all about the education.”

Rochette echoed her teammate’s thoughts.

“I’d rather spend my summer in Virginia, at Virginia Beach and go play some softball afterwards than go hang out with the people I hang out with every day anyway,” Rochette said. “This is more productive than what I would be doing, just hanging out at home, versus setting my future up. This is awesome.”