By Tris Wykes
WEST CANAAN – Giddy laughter filled the Hanover High softball dugout Friday when the Marauders came off the field following their third at-bat against Mascoma. Just three days after losing to the Royals by 24 runs, the visitors were now improbably leading by three.
“One inning at a time,” urged Hanover coach Mariruth Graham. “Keep your focus.”
Unfortunately for the Marauders, the wheels soon fell off en route to a 16-4 loss. Mascoma tied the NHIAA Division III contest in the fourth inning, took a two-run lead in the fifth and ended the game during a sixth frame in which the Royals sent 12 batters to the plate and Hanover didn’t record an out.
Mascoma improved to 4-0, although its victories, two each over Hanover and fellow division cellar-dweller Lebanon, leave room to wonder just how good the Royals are. There’s no doubt, however, that a program that won only three games in 2019 has jump-started its improvement.
“Practices are running extra long because we’re putting in some much work,” said Mascoma senior catcher Paige Jette. “We’re working our butts off and we don’t want to leave.”
The Marauders opened the scoring during their first at-bat, Haily Stewart smacking a double and scoring on Skouly Kachikis’ single. The visitors went up, 2-0, an inning later, Sage Johnson’s two-out single bringing home Rhea Veerareddy.
Hanover starting pitcher Jessie Lobb set Mascoma down in order in the second inning and the Marauders were jubilant after they scored twice more during the third. Stewart led off with a single, stole second and came home on Izzy Kachikis’ single. Kachikis took second on a wild pitch and was driven in by a Natalia Somoff single.
The Royals got on the scoreboard in the third inning, leadoff batter Brianna Withington dropping down a successful bunt, stealing second and advancing to third on a groundout. Mara Isham brought her home with a single.
Mascoma tied the game at 4-4 during the fourth inning. Paige Jette and Maggie Morse led off with singles and Sophie Taylor drew a walk. Jette and Morse scored on wild pitches, prompting Graham to pull Lobb, a freshman, in favor of senior Emilee Jones.
The reliever induced and fielded a groundout, but failed to look Taylor back to third before throwing to first base, allowing the runner to score.
The Royals began to pull away during the fifth inning. Isham was hit by a pitch, McKenzie DeAmicis walked and Audrey May singled home Isham. DeAmicis took third on that play and scored on a wild pitch to make the score 6-4.
Hanover (0-4) could manage only a walk and three strikeouts during the sixth and the latter half of that inning brought an avalanche comprised of five hits, seven walks, two wild pitches, a passed ball and an error. Lobb re-entered the game and faced three batters before the game was ended by the 12-run rule.
Through it all, the boom box in the home dugout blared a succession of 1980s tunes by the likes of AC/DC, Def Leppard and Billy Squier. The rowdy Royals will beat you and provide a pounding soundtrack at the same time. Many have played together since elementary school and Isham and Jette have formed a battery for nine consecutive years.
“We have a senior class with such a fun personality,” said Jette, who at times danced in her team’s dugout fence opening. “We’re just a really tight-knit group of girls with relentless positivity. I like to get everyone all riled up and scream like a man.”
Jette said the addition this year of volunteer coaches and former Virginia residents Jason and Christine LaBore has provided a spark. The pair work under third-year head coach Chris Thurston, but Jason LaBore usually calls Isham’s pitches and coaches third base.
“Chris couldn’t do it all on his own and Jason and Christine have brought so much knowledge with them,” Jette said. “We have three coaches working with their own group of girls during practice, so we get a lot more 1-on-1 time and that’s so beneficial for everyone.”
Graham was Hanover’s only coach Friday but the former University of Virginia catcher and Dartmouth College assistant has brought positive change since taking the job in 2018. The Marauders are clearly better at fundamentals and game awareness than their predecessors who went 21-100 from 2011-2018, but Graham’s still wading upstream.
During Friday’s contest, the coach reminded her players to tag up and advance when an opponent catches a foul ball, coaxed them off base to take leads and explained that fouling off a two-strike bunt attempt results in an out. One Marauder infielder attempted to cover grounders with her glove, rather than turning it over and allowing the ball to roll inside.
“They’re all teachable moments,” said Graham, whose team is keeping scores close for longer stretches. “They’re starting to understand and play the game better. They’re becoming more team-oriented and realizing that a walk’s often as good as a hit.”
Graham said she’s spreading out playing time so her underclassmen gain experience and feel they fill a role other than sitting on the bench.
“We’re not just thinking about this year, but two years down the road,” she said.
Pitching is vital in softball and Hanover hasn’t had a standout in the circle in recent memory. The Marauders surrendered 13 hits, issued 12 walks and hit a batter Friday. The program needs to develop a hurler like Mascoma’s Isham, who allowed eight hits and five walks while striking out 11 batters.
“This year was tough because we usually have six weeks of working with pitchers and catchers before the season,” Graham said. “We have to try a bunch of people out and find the next girl who’s interested, but it’s hard when they only play during the (high school) season.”
Why does Graham stay and how does she keep her troops upbeat? The first question prompted a sly smile and a joke about the job keeping her off the streets, but the gig is about more than softball.
“The kids’ chemistry is great and they really want to do well for each other,” said Graham, a Hanover resident and Realtor, who worked with her players this week on meditation and mindfulness. “I want them to learn bigger things they can use forever.
“There’s so much stress in their day-to-day lives and I want to show them they can grow from failures. This is a safe space for that.”
Notes: Mascoma clashes with rival Stevens next week while Hanover squares off with Fall Mountain… Skouly Kichikis, a third baseman, drew oohs and ahhs when she sprinted and dove up against the fence in a full-tilt effort to catch a foul pop. Also a basketball guard, the junior is playing her first season of high school softball… The Royals honored seniors Jette, Isham, Audrey May and Tatum Schmidt before the game… Hanover has only two seniors, Jones and Enna Prak. The Marauders feature five juniors, a sophomore and five freshmen… The NHIAA first sanctioned softball playoffs in 1975. Hanover won its lone title in 1983 behind the pitching of current Keene State field hockey coach Amy Watson. Mascoma its only championship in 1990.
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