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Stuck in the ‘K’ Zone: Woodsville Softball Dethroned

  • Woodsville's Jessica Merrill, left, and Raine May watch the final inning of the Woodsville vs. Portsmouth Christian Division IV softball semifinal game at Plymouth State University in Holderness, N.H., on June 11, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Woodsville's Jessica Merrill, left, and Raine May watch the final inning of the Woodsville vs. Portsmouth Christian Division IV softball semifinal game at Plymouth State University in Holderness, N.H., on June 11, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Woodsville's Pitcher Lottie Page throws to Portsmouth Christian during the Woodsville vs. Portsmouth Christian Division IV softball semifinal game at Plymouth State University in Holderness, N.H., on June 11, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Woodsville's Pitcher Lottie Page throws to Portsmouth Christian during the Woodsville vs. Portsmouth Christian Division IV softball semifinal game at Plymouth State University in Holderness, N.H., on June 11, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Woodsville's Jessica Merrill, left, and Raine May watch the final inning of the Woodsville vs. Portsmouth Christian Division IV softball semifinal game at Plymouth State University in Holderness, N.H., on June 11, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Woodsville's Pitcher Lottie Page throws to Portsmouth Christian during the Woodsville vs. Portsmouth Christian Division IV softball semifinal game at Plymouth State University in Holderness, N.H., on June 11, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Holderness, n.h. — Say this about the person or persons who track the strikeouts of Portsmouth Christian Academy pitcher Alicia Vining with giant Ks: They came prepared for Wednesday’s NHIAA Division IV semifinals.

Almost.

As Vining racked up strikeout upon strikeout against top-ranked Woodsville, a paper K — apparently weatherproof, given the steady rain — showed up on the fence beside the Eagles’ dugout. Once Vining got past seven, on her way to 11 strikeouts in an 13-1 PCA win, the K signs ended with a note: “She’s so good she ran out of posters.”

“She’s always got the changeup in the back of your mind,” Woodsville coach Dana Huntington said of Vining, who ended the Engineers’ reign as state champs with a complete-game four-hitter at Plymouth State University’s D&M Park. “All in all, she has good determination. She was around the strike zone a lot. She was good at getting the ball up and down, changing eye levels. Just a very efficient job today.”

PCA (17-4) will get No. 2 Wilton-Lyndeborough in Saturday’s title tilt. The Warriors rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to post a 6-2 victory over No. 3 Sunapee in Wednesday’s early game.

Portsmouth Christian 13, Woodsville 1

Woodsville (17-2) never got on track against Vining, who had a 1-0 lead in her hip pocket before she even took to the circle.

The Eagles loaded the bases in the top of the first on a Woodsville error and back-to-back singles from catcher Nicole Dudley and first baseman Mikaela Harkovich. Third baseman Amelia Sheedy followed with a grounder that the Woodsville infield couldn’t handle, netting an unearned run.

The rest of the night followed the same theme. The Engineers’ defense finished with six errors, contributing to nine unearned Portsmouth Christian runs. Vining held up her end of the bargain by keeping Woodsville’s bats silent.

“You can prepare the best you can, and sometime it just doesn’t work out,” Huntington said. “You’ve got to be able to hit. That’s one thing we didn’t do today.

“They just got all the breaks. It’s one of those games where you come into it feeling really well, feeling really good about your chances, but sometimes they don’t go your way.”

Dudley finished the night with three hits and three RBIs for PCA, which will be making its first visit to a softball championship game. Harkovich and Sheedy added two-run hits. Josie Tarbell and Danielle Brashear also drove in runs for the Eagles.

A two-run Dudley single upped Portsmouth Christian’s lead to 3-0 in the second. Hannah Daly and Tarbell drove in runs in the third, Harkovich delivered her two-run double in the fourth and PCA blew the game open with five unearned runs in the fifth, ending the night for Woodsville pitcher Lottie Page.

“They did what we didn’t — they put the bat on the ball,” Huntington said. “That’s crucial in games like this, or any game. If you’re not making contact, you’re not getting solid hits. It’s not like they were swinging from their heels. They came in with a game plan of putting the bat to the ball, and they did a good job with that.”

The Engineers nicked Vining for their only run in the home fourth. Cassidy Townsend beat out a slow roller to second and scored on Page’s one-out double to the center-field fence. They were the only Woodsville baserunners to reach scoring position.

Vining took care of the rest. The Ks told the story — at least until they ran out of them.

Wilton-Lyndeborough 6 Sunapee 2

The Lakers got the start they wanted with a two-run first inning, only to give it back right away.

After taking two strikes and fouling back two more pitches, Sunapee leadoff batter Rachel Malanga launched a Sara Holka delivery over the left-field fence for a game-opening home run. The Lakers squeezed out another run without the benefit of a hit, Katey Fowler coming home when Kylie Hershey took an 0-2 pitch off the ankle with the bases full.

The Sunapee defense, however, got loose with the ball, committing three errors in the home first to gift the Warriors two unearned runs. Malanga, the Laker shortstop, shook off an early miscue to throw out back-to-back grounders to strand a Wilton runner at third and keep the score at 2-2.

“They came up ready to hit the ball,” fifth-year Sunapee coach Bonnie Cruz said. “So did Wilton, though.”

It went downhill from there.

Buoyed by a quick pep talk from her catcher, Holka settled down and limited Sunapee to just three hits the rest of the way. The Lakers got runners on base every frame by the seventh, twice getting to third base, but Holka had the answer every time.

“That first batter, when she hit that home run, it kind of rattled all of us,” confessed Holka, who still rallied to strike out nine Lakers against five walks. “We saw how they could hold their own at the plate. Then (catcher) Ally (Schwab) came out and talked to me, said I had to relax and focus, and that really helped me a lot to calm down and focus on my spots.”

A Kimmie Edmunds double, a triple from Holka and a Schwab RBI single to open the home third put Wilton-Lyndeborough ahead to stay. The bottom of the order produced two more runs in the sixth, with Lexi Balam (infield single) and Lorrie Blais (hit by pitch) scoring on a two-run Edmunds single.

“I couldn’t be more happy with the group of girls I have,” Cruz said. “Their attitudes are wonderful. They give 100 percent all the time. They don’t let down.

“I don’t feel like they beat themselves ever. I feel they can leave the field today and feel they gave their best effort.”

Fungoes: Sunapee’s girls soccer, basketball and softball teams produced a combined 51-9-1 record during the school year. The Lakers won the D-IV girls soccer crown and took runner-up on the hardwood. … The Eagles’ full name is Portsmouth Christian Academy at Dover. … Sunapee loses three to graduation: Fowler, Lea Peiffer and Laura Carvahlo. … The Engineers graduate six: Townsend, Erica Belyea, Katherine Emley, Molly Ruprecht, Julia Bowman and Allyson O’Shana.

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