---- — Over the years, Phillips Academy’s Peter Drench has coached a number of terrific teams.
One team won 19 games, several captured the competitive Big East Tournament and some pulled off huge upsets.
But none had gone undefeated — until this year.
The Big Blue finished a rain-abbreviated season at 13-0, and they had few close games among their victories.
“It (going undefeated) had never happened, but it never really mattered to me,” said Drench. “I’d rather just play good competition.”
Nevertheless, Drench concedes that this year’s team was “one of the best we’ve ever had.
“What stands out for me is the cohesiveness of the team and that we had great senior leadership. And it all starts with pitching and Kayla (Maloney) has done everything for us.”
A two-time Eagle-Tribune Player of the Year, Maloney led the Big Blue to three straight Big East crowns, being named tourney MVP twice. By winning the final two games, including the semifinals with a no-hitter, she easily could have been a three-time tourney MVP.
For three years, Columbia-bound Maloney was the team’s ace pitcher and usually its best hitter, for both power and average. She hit an even .500 this season after hitting .453 a year ago.
“We’ve had some great players (recently Michelle Hollebeck, Lindsay Maroney and Sarah Onorato) but, when you look at everything she’s done for us, Kayla is right up there with anyone we’ve had,” said Drench. “She’s so talented and she’s a great competitor.”
The Big Blue also had some other terrific players this year, like shortstop Abby Chung and Andover catcher Nikki Pelletier, as well as two local players — Haverhill’s Kasey Hartung and Methuen’s Ravenne Nasser — who made huge strides.
Hartung, who Drench says may have been the most improved player on the team, switched to third base and Nasser, a sophomore, was not only excellent as the team’s No. 2 pitcher but played a fine center field and was the team’s leadoff hitter.
All in all, everything fell in place for the Big Blue this spring, except for one thing.
“It was just so frustrating having so many games called off,” said Drench, who lost eight games. “When you have good kids who want to compete, you want to play as many games as you can.”
Because it’s her fifth year of high school, having started at Central Catholic, Maloney is not eligible to become a three-time Eagle-Tribune Player of the Year, but her numbers would have made her worthy of the honor. In addition to leading the team in hitting, runs and RBIs, she was 9-0 pitching with two no-hitters, striking out 109 in 62 innings and posting a 0.79 ERA.
Over three years, Maloney was 33-4 with a 0.73 ERA with 425 strikeouts. She hit .523, .453 and .500 at the plate and set a career record with 17 home runs.
Nasser, by the way, should be a worthy successor as the No. 1 pitcher. This year, she was 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA, striking out 24 and walking just four in 22 innings.
Brooks high on future
Although Brooks suffered its fourth straight losing season, finishing 6-11, first-year coach Monica Berube is far from distraught and she’s upbeat about next season.
“We really didn’t play badly,” said Berube. “We just had a lot of bad luck, hitting the ball hard at people, and untimely errors. We played good defense and didn’t make a lot of errors but, when we did, they came at bad times.”
Berube was generally pleased with the pitching and cited the no-hitter of Andover’s Cassandra Hunt as one of the team’s highlights.
“I think we have the talent and we’re in good shape for next year,” said Berube, who will lose four seniors. “We just have to put it all together.”
Adding to Berube’s optimism is that two incoming freshmen should help immensely. They are pitcher Molly Carrabathsos and catcher Gabi Hillner from Haverhill. Carrabathsos will probably share time with Hunt and both should be immediate contributors.