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Young Rivendell Softball Team Goes to School

  • After a difficult inning, Shay Lapine, second from left, gets encouragement from her teammates, Taylor Acheson, left, Amanda Otis, bottom right, and Brittany Sargent on the Rivendell bench Thursday, April 24, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    After a difficult inning, Shay Lapine, second from left, gets encouragement from her teammates, Taylor Acheson, left, Amanda Otis, bottom right, and Brittany Sargent on the Rivendell bench Thursday, April 24, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rivendell softball coach Lance Mills faces a season with a tight roster of inexperienced players, but hopes to teach them the game and help them improve along the way. Thursday, April 24, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Rivendell softball coach Lance Mills faces a season with a tight roster of inexperienced players, but hopes to teach them the game and help them improve along the way. Thursday, April 24, 2014.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • After a difficult inning, Shay Lapine, second from left, gets encouragement from her teammates, Taylor Acheson, left, Amanda Otis, bottom right, and Brittany Sargent on the Rivendell bench Thursday, April 24, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Rivendell softball coach Lance Mills faces a season with a tight roster of inexperienced players, but hopes to teach them the game and help them improve along the way. Thursday, April 24, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Orford — The skunk will not get the last laugh.

As a team bonding exercise, Rivendell Academy softball coach Lance Mills recently pitched to his Raptors the idea of caps with a certain woodland creature’s distinctive caricature attached. Such a critter made a home this winter under the shed that houses Rivendell’s softball equipment; the gear wasn’t damaged, but the odor — faint, but easily noticeable — remains.

“I tried to get the girls to get hats with skunk tails on them,” Mills lamented on Thursday. “They didn’t want to do it.”

Frankly, the Raptors will be happy learning what this confusing game is all about instead.

Now that the season’s officially begun, Rivendell will probably have more days like Thursday, a 33-1 loss to Blue Mountain at Orford Community Field. There will be moments of resignation, perhaps tears of frustration, and Mills plans to be there to prop his Raptors up and point out the progress that, to his players, might be hard to identify.

The problem is numbers. The whole of the Rivendell program consists of 12 players this season. Of them, only four have had varsity or junior varsity softball experience. The rest are, for the most part, learning the game for the first time.

Mills doesn’t have a team so much as a classroom this spring, one filled with inquisitive minds.

“I think that we are going to find some very positive things on the field,” Mills said after the Raptors’ season-opener. “I don’t think we’re going to go through the season without winning any games or anything. I think that we’re going to be competitive with some of the teams that we play at the varsity level.”

To that end, Mills and Rivendell athletic director Bob Thatcher last week decided to drop five games from the Raptors’ original 15-game slate. For a group just learning the game, the decision makes sense.

Four of the games were to be played against defending NHIAA Division IV state champion Woodsville. Two others were set against defending VPA Division III state champ Oxbow. Mills hopes to fill those vacancies — as well as one of two dates with archrival Thetford — with junior varsity contests.

The 10 remaining contests — all but Monday’s visit to TA — will be against fellow Central Vermont League members. The total represents the minimum number of varsity games Rivendell must play to make the Vermont postseason.

“They’re hard-working girls,” Mills said. “A lot of them haven’t played before. Some of them have.”

That’s where the relentless optimism of Erin Lapine will play a role.

Lapine moved to the Rivendell district this school year from Windsor, which has a strong softball tradition. That experience makes the newcomer leadership material; the team easily identified and punctuated that notion by making her a co-captain this season with fellow sophomore Taylor Acheson.

Even as the Bucks (1-2) piled up the runs, Lapine was the voice of enthusiasm and humor:

To a teammate at the plate: “Take a piece, girlfriend!”

To a Blue Mountain batter after accidentally launching a high pitch: “Aw, just kidding.”

To catcher Heather Dexter following another off-target pitch: “I’ll get it to you, Heather. Don’t worry.”

“I just hope I can give all my effort and energy and help the other girls succeed, so we can all be successful,” Lapine said. “I just try to pump everyone up, really, because if we get down, things just get worse. Always got to be positive.”

Mills has noticed: “Erin is a natural leader,” he said. “She’s one of the nicest kids you could ever hope to coach. She’s got nothing but hard work and good attitude. … She’s not afraid to dig in. That’s real leadership right there.”

If nothing else, Mills’ young players will have plenty of chances to find roles that suit them.

Lapine had never caught or pitched before, yet did both against the Bucks, delivering the Raptors’ only scoreless inning in the circle. Third baseman Amanda Otis made a nice backhand stab of a first-inning Blue Mountain line drive. Right fielder Tara Collins snagged a liner of her own late in the game.

Both Collins and senior Katie Westrup — an exchange student from Germany who hadn’t so much as seen a softball until a few weeks ago — found themselves in Lapine’s embrace after making plays. Westrup, thrown into second base duty in the fourth inning of the five-inning affair, had knocked down a BMU grounder and made the throw to first in time for an out.

It’s simple stuff. But for a very young team very early in its learning curve, it’s also very meaningful.

“All of the girls are really going to figure out where they are in the game and how to improve,” Lapine said. “I just think that once we get our groove, we’re going to start heading off.”

There’s a skunk somewhere in Orford that might want to keep that in mind.

Fungoes: The Bucks rapped 19 hits off three Rivendell pitchers, ran the bases aggressively and took advantage of frequent wild pitches and walks to take control quickly. Blue Mountain’s two defeats came against Oxbow and Woodsville. … Allona Farley and Shelby Peters led BMU’s offense with five runs each. Emily Hart had two of the visitors’ five triples on the afternoon. … The Raptors’ Heather Dexter was a goaltender on the Hartford High girls hockey team this winter. She kept warm after the game in a sweatshirt that bore the words, “Peace Love Hockey.” … Rivendell added Emily Ghio to the roster yesterday. Mills said she will be limited to defensive chores only because of ongoing recovery from a shoulder injury.

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.