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Tigers Earning Their Stripes After Doubleheader Sweep

  • Newport seniors Stacia Dame, left, Hailey Perry and Kendall Hamilton (not shown) hug after they were given flowers by their families at the start of the home-and-home double-header with Stevens in Newport, N.H., on May 11, 2018. Newport won the first game, 6-3. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Newport sophomore pitcher Lacey McNeel fires a fastball in the middle of the first of the home-and-home double-header with Stevens in Newport, N.H., on May 11, 2018. Newport won the first game, 6-3. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Stevens shortstop Jenna Pond pulls down the throw from catcher Makayla Maccioli (not shown) to tag out Newport's Kendall Hamilton while stealing second in the fourth inning of their game in Newport, N.H., on May 11, 2018. Newport won the first game of the home-and-home double-header, 6-3. Backing up Pond is second baseman Morgan Rhoades. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Newport head coach Sam McNeel offers encouragement to designated player Shelby Adams as she goes up to bat late in the first of the home-and-home double-header with Stevens in Newport, N.H., on May 11, 2018. Newport won the first game, 6-3. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 2018

Newport — Lacey McNeel has been preparing all winter for a season like this.

Not that she or her teammates on the Newport High softball team ever expected to be undefeated through their first nine games. That realization came later, after weeks of practice during a rain-filled month of April.

Newport broke out with a four-run fourth inning and never looked back in a 6-3 victory against its previously undefeated neighbor Stevens in game one of a home-and-home doubleheader on Friday at Newport High. It later swept the twin bill with a 6-2 win in the nightcap at Claremont’s Veteran’s Field.

“It’s the best competition we’ve faced all year so far,” Newport head coach Sam McNeel, Lacey’s father, said after game one. “It was a good test for us. In the end, I think we’re the better team.”

The Tigers (9-0) racked up nine hits in the opener against Cardinals junior ace Madison Lapsley, who had pitched a two-hit shutout at home against Mascoma just four days earlier. Lapsley finished the game with two strikeouts and four walks in the loss, Stevens’ first in 10 games this spring.

McNeel struck out seven, walked one and allowed eight hits to lift Newport to 8-0. She was also 1-for-4 with an RBI, a walk, and a run scored in game one, and struck out another six Cardinals batters in game two.

“This was a huge game for us,” Lacey McNeel said. “We knew they were good. … We started talking a lot more than we usually do. That helped a lot.”

It took a while for Newport to get going on a day that pitted two of the four remaining team with perfect records in NHIAA Division III. The Tigers did not register a hit in the first two innings of game one and they didn’t connect on all of their throws defensively.

“If we execute, I’m talking making the simple plays, execute with the bunts, we can beat these guys day in and day out. We can beat anybody,” Sam McNeel said. “But (today) we left runs on the board, not able to move runners because we couldn’t get a simple bunt down.”

Stevens finally took advantage in the third inning to break the scoreless tie. Freshman Makayla Maccioli hit a one-out double to left-center field, reaching third base on an errant throw from the outfield. She then scored on a wild pitch that sailed out of McNeel’s hand high and wide on Newport catcher Stacia Dame, giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

A half-inning later, Newport’s offense came alive with four runs on four hits, two walks and a sacrifice bunt to retake the lead.

Newport loaded the bases with a one-out walk to Jenna Maheu, a single by Lacey McNeel and a bunt single by Kendall Hamilton before Dame hit a two-RBI double into deep left field to begin the rally. Alyssa Burr added to it with a sacrifice bunt to drive in Hamilton, and Hailey Perry delivered Dame with an RBI single later in the inning.

Stevens (9-2) answered in the top of the fourth with three consecutive hits, two of them RBI singles by Jenna Pond and Elle Greiner, that cut Newport’s lead to 4-3. But the Cardinals couldn’t follow through, managing only two singles the rest of the way.

“We had a couple girls that didn’t hit the ball well, but most of them put the bat on the ball,” Stevens head coach Missy Nichols said. “There’s four or five teams at the top (of D-III) that are tough. We know they’re tough up there. We’ve been talking all year how we have to play tough like that. … I think they need to see (tough competition). I’ve got a young group; they haven’t all seen it.”

Newport added an insurance run in both the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth, Maheu hit a one-out triple in right field before McNeel drove her in with a sacrifice fly to center. In the fifth, Perry plated Dame from third base with a two-out RBI single to help secure the win.

“I’ve had teams, a couple of years ago, that were actually better teams, but they didn’t play together as a team,” Sam McNeel said. “These guys have come together. … They’re actually a team, where some of the other ones weren’t. Sometimes that happens when you have too many athletes, you have too many individuals. I think we have a group of girls that want to play the game, that are still learning.”

Dame finished game one 2-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored for Newport in the opener. Perry was also 2-for-4 with two RBIs.

In game two, Newport built a 6-0 lead through six innings. Perry scored twice, once in a three-run fourth inning to give the Tigers a decisive lead. Stevens broke up the shutout in the seventh on an RBI single from Morgan Rhoades.

Newport graduated only two from last year’s squad and returned both starting pitchers in McNeel and Burr. McNeel said the first couple of weeks were tough on the team, despite opening the season with back-to-back shutouts against Fall Mountain (12-0 on April 11) and Monadnock (5-0 on May 2).

It was that time in between contests, she said, that really allowed the team to come together. That bond seems to be paying off weeks later.

“We were struggling to begin with,” McNeel admitted. “Our first couple of games, we were a little off. But once we practiced every single day … when we had no games and three weeks of practice, (it was) just (us) talking and knowing that this could be something if we kept working hard. It took a while, but we’re getting there.”

McNeel pitched much of the season a year ago, leading the Tigers to an 11-6 record and a first round loss to Belmont in the D-III tournament. Her confidence a year later, she said, is at an all-time high. She admitted she’s too hard on herself sometimes. Her father-coach confirmed as much.

But the hurler has learned how to be a leader as much as she’s improved her pitching. The Tigers are reaping the benefits.

“I’m super competitive,” McNeel said. “Going into this (season), I said, ‘I’m going to strike everybody out.’ … I had no movement last year. I added some new pitches to my list, that’s honestly helped me out so much become the pitcher I am today.

“I pitch every day. I’m so committed to this sport. … All winter long I was pitching, making sure I was ready.”

Newport will play the rest of its schedule on the road with six games remaining. It next travels to Mascenic on Tuesday before a doubleheader at Mascoma on Thursday. Stevens hosts Monadnock on Monday.

Josh Weinreb can be reached at jweinreb@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.