LHS Softball Squad’s Title Hopes Dashed in the Quarterfinals

LHS pitcher Andi Nelson covers the plate on a passed ball as a Bedford runner scores during the locals’ tourney loss. Photo by Chris Paul

Sometimes the anticipated outcome of an event seems so obvious as to border on the silly. But assumptions can also prove to be silly.

One case in point would come in sports where, for instance, the number one seeded team faces the nine-ranked team in a playoff game, with the top seed having won a bunch of games in a row and the number 10 crew having lost a pile of games in a row. In sports terms, the outcome would appear to be a “slam dunk.”

Alas, the Londonderry High School softball team has learned each of the last two springs that you cannot take any victory for granted.

The top-ranked Lady Lancers bounded into their Division I quarterfinal-round tourney game with ninth-seeded Bedford at LHS Saturday, June 3, with every reason to believe that they could be on the road to the first state championship in their program’s history.

But Bedford pitcher Katie Martin and the Lady Bulldogs had nothing to lose in their effort to upset the favored Lady Lancers, and that’s exactly what they did in the form of a stunning  5-0 shutout to advance to the D-I semifinals.

“We simply got down early and didn’t respond,” lamented coach Wayne MacDougall, who was recently named the 2017 D-I Coach of the Year. “Their pitcher did a nice job, but certainly this was not a true indication of the talent level we displayed all season. The season was great, and this one game certainly cannot detract from all the success experienced this year.”

The 18-1 Londonderry team entered the tourney game white-hot, having won 10 straight games – with six shutouts – and having outscored those 10 opponents by the jaw-dropping tally of 75-10.

But in a one-game, win-or-go-home tournament format, you’re only as successful as the way you play on that day.

The quick exit from the tournament was reminiscent of the conclusion to the Lady Lancers’ 2016 season, in which the team went 14-6 for the regular season and claimed the number four seed in the Division I tourney. But in a perfect example of the statement “That’s why we play the games,” the Londonderry team’s title hopes were dashed by a 3-2 upset loss to the number-13 Keene High Lady Blackbirds at Londonderry High in round one.

Bedford had begun its 2017 regular season by winning its first seven games. But the Lady Bulldogs went 3-8 the rest of the way, finishing up at 10-8 with four straight losses. They were outscored 51-19 in those final four games.

So heading into the tourney you had a struggling Bedford bunch and a sizzling Londonderry  contingent looking to move forward.

Bedford advanced to the quarterfinals by edging number-eight Concord by a slim, 10-9 margin.

The Lancers got off to a shaky start in the first inning with starting pitcher Andi Nelson giving up a walk, a bunt, and a single to load the bases. The clean-up hitter then scorched a single to drive in the first two runs of the game. The top of that inning ended with one more run and a 3-0 Bedford lead.

Two more runs were scored in the top of the third, which finished Nelson for the day.

LHS junior Ila Brown came in to replace Nelson in the fourth and kept the Bulldogs scoreless.

Lady Bulldogs’ pitcher Martin wound up holding the powerful LHS offense to a mere four hits – two of which came off of the bat of Katrina Rivard – in claiming victory. She struck out nine Lady Lancer hitters, and her offense supported her with five runs in the first and third innings in doing more than enough scoring to win this big game.

And much to his chagrin, LHS coach MacDougall was left to summarize his team’s season far earlier than he expected to.

“The kids were outstanding both as high achieving students and athletes, and particularly the group of seniors that set the right example all year,” he said. “We will miss their talent and their leadership next season.”

The coach has held off on deciding whether he’d return for another softball season until a while after the conclusion of a campaign. And in the wake of the tough tourney loss to Bedford, he took the same stance.

“As for myself, I’m not sure right now and I don’t want to make a decision when I am so discouraged with our finish,” he said. “I was rewarded for our regular season with Division I Coach of the Year, and I am pleased by that. But it’s little consolation when you know you had a team capable of being champions or at least competing for it.”

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