Woodsville Still Engineering Success: Injuries Aren’t Interfering With Softball Title Defense
Woodsville High pitcher Lottie Page delivers against Littleton on Monday. The host Engineers won, 4-3, and remain atop the NHIAA Division IV standings. Woodsville won the division title last year.
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Woodsville High first baseman Kat Emley stretches to haul in a throw that beats Littleton runner Jordan Odell during the teams' NHIAA Division IV game Monday in Woodsville. The host Engineers won, 4-3.
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Woodsville — The Woodsville High softball team’s shortstop is out with a knee injury, and one of its frontline pitchers has a wonky shoulder. Monday, the Engineers squeaked past lowly Littleton, 4-3, during their second-to-last regular-season game, and the playoffs loom next week. The NHIAA Division IV field features dangerous squads such as Wilton-Lyndeborough (12-2), Sunapee (10-3) and Portsmouth Christian (13-4).
Still, you wouldn’t bet against Woodsville (14-1) to make an extended playoff run, would you?
Not if you’re smart. That’s because the Engineers annually play their best ball as the calendar turns to June. State titles in 2010 and 2013 sandwiched a pair of semifinal appearances, and nothing looks different this time around, even with a few health issues at hand.
“The expectation is that we’ll get to Plymouth (State) and be one of the last four teams playing,” said fourth-year coach Dana Huntington, who was an assistant on the 2010 title team. “Once you get to that big stage, who knows what can happen?”
What occurred Monday was the continuation of a May 22 game with the Crusaders that was halted because of rain after an inning, with the visitors leading, 2-1. Lottie Page, Woodsville’s starting pitcher, issued an uncharacteristic four walks as her plant foot slipped forward in mud with nearly every delivery that day.
Upon continuing the game on a dry field, however, the junior righthander allowed only three hits and no runs while striking out three batters and walking one during four innings’ work.
“Lottie improved greatly this year, and she has more pitches to throw and more confidence in them after working on them in the gym all winter,” Huntington said of a player who was the Engineers’ No. 2 option in the circle last spring. “She’s a much better pitcher this year than she was last year.”
Page could have continued but Huntington brought in sophomore Tori Clough, who earned a save by allowing one hit and one run during the final two innings. She struck out two Crusaders and walked three, but every outing is a bit dicey for the lefthander, a three-sport athlete who’s overcome a pair of serious concussions and a lingering shoulder injury.
Clough said she was pitching in the Engineers’ gym before last season when her throwing shoulder popped out of joint. The incident limited her to pinch running during the softball team’s championship campaign, and she re-injured the shoulder during basketball season. Thus far this spring it’s been throw and hope, with strengthening exercises thrown in for good measure.
“I’m still nervous about it,” Clough said. “I don’t have any doubts about pitching, because I like to push things, but I have to be careful not to get all riled up, because that changes my form and makes things more risky.”
Said Huntington: “Once you get to that third or fourth time through the batting order, it’s nice to give (opponents) a different look. Tori’s still recovering, but she’s done really well coming at them from the left side and with that big motion. Lottie would be finishing games if we didn’t have Tori, but a righty-lefty combo is a nice luxury to have.”
Woodsville seized control of the game in the third inning.
Julia Bowman drew a leadoff walk and scored on a Kat Emley triple that produced a 2-2 tie. Libbie Hilliard walked, and Nakita Duling drilled a single that scored Emley for a 3-2 lead. A Jessica Merrill single followed, scoring Hilliard.
The Engineers have won six consecutive games on the field, with a forfeit by Rivendell in the midst of that streak. Woodsville’s loss was by a run at Profile (9-4) and Huntington, as he seems to do every year, has plugged in working parts to replace losses to graduation and injury. His team is currently without starting shortstop Dee Martin, who hurt a knee in club soccer earlier this month and whose status for the remainder of softball season is uncertain.
One factor in Woodsville’s ability to reload and not rebuild has been the U16 summer team Huntington organizes, oversees and matches against strong competition around the Twin States during June and July. That squad plays only during the regular season, and the Engineers use it to groom not only young high schoolers, but those in junior high. Clough, Duling and Martin are only sophomores, but have already each played three summer schedules for Huntington.
“It’s a good opportunity for the younger kids to come in and get an idea of what I’m about and to learn that they can play at this level,” the coach said. “My goal is to build our program by bringing up the younger kids and by giving older kids a chance to play different positions. Summer ball’s not about winning; it’s about learning.”
Woodsville concludes the regular season against Moultonborough on Friday, and the playoffs begin next week.
Notes: Woodsville beat Wilton-Lyndeborough for both its 2010 and 2013 state titles and lost to the Warriors in the 2011 semifinals. … The Engineers boast a highly intelligent infield. The lineup includes senior valedictorian Emley at first base, salutatorian Bowman at catcher and third baseman Molly Ruprecht, who’s fourth in the graduating class. Emley will attend Harvard, Bowman Salve-Regina University in Newport, R.I., and Ruprecht the University of New Hampshire. … Woodsville was 17-3 last season.
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.