EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

June 17, 2009

Knights' Whitley reminiscent of Salem great Mollica

On Softball

Let's bestow some honors and make a few citations following another exciting season.

Whitney Mollica Award

This goes to the best pure hitter, in honor of the three-time UMass Amherst all-leaguer out of Salem High.

My pick is North Andover infielder Krissy Whitley. She hit .492 (her fourth straight year of at least .475) and struck out only once all year. The Southern Connecticut State-bound senior can hit anyone.

It makes you wonder what was wrong with the Cape Ann League coaches who didn't put her on the all-conference first team.

Alexis Souhlaris Award

This goes to the best combined pitcher/hitter, like the current University of Maine star from Pinkerton.

The winner, without a doubt, was Brooks senior Britt Hart of North Andover, who compiled a 0.76 ERA for the 14-3 Green and White and also led the team in batting with a .492 average, 20 RBIs and four game-winning hits. If there's a way to beat you, Hart will find it.

Sara Jewett Award

This goes to the best combined catcher/hitter, in honor of the former University of Maine and New England Riptide basher from Haverhill.

North Andover's Candace Waldie earns the honor. Great defensively with a rocket arm, Waldie not only batted .393, but she was all about power, leading the Knights in doubles (6), triples (4), home runs (3) and runs scored (23).

Most Improved Player

Georgetown sophomore Sarah Erlandson gets the nod based largely on her improved control. When she stopped walking batters, and increased her strikeout total, the Royals turned around their fortunes. She had some huge games including striking out 18 vs. Lynnfield and 15 in a no-hitter vs. Manchester Essex.

Most surprising team

Who else but Londonderry? Despite graduating stars Brooke Beaudet, Andrea Ouellette, Cristina Bailey and Molly Rooney, the all-underclassman Lancers (except for pitcher Erica Boehm) went to the Class L semifinals and finished 18-4.

Chip off the old block

OK, they play different positions, but Sanborn junior Morgan Farmer is doing older sister and current UMass Lowell pitcher Lindsay Farmer proud. The Indians shortstop hit over .500, led the team in average and RBIs and was the best player for the state semifinalists.

Lindsay, you'll remember, was a two-time Eagle-Tribune All-Star who posted a minuscule 0.19 ERA her senior year.

Performance of the Year

You've got to go with Pinkerton senior Cara Chooljian, who was nearly perfect for seven innings, and had 15 strikeouts and a shutout for 15 innings under tournament pressure before dropping a 1-0 heartbreaker to Londonderry.

FAB 5

The Eagle-Tribune's final 2009 ranking of area softball teams:

Team%Record

1. Londonderry%18-4

2. Salem%16-5

3. Central Catholic%16-5

4. Brooks%14-3

5. Pinkerton%15-6

Honorable mention: Methuen (15-6), Sanborn (18-2), Phillips Academy (15-4), North Reading (16-5)

Sorry Bay State, New Hampshire is superior

Which state is tougher in high school sports: New Hampshire or Massachusetts?

That chronic border debate is rather one-sided in softball. The Granite State is, plain and simple, superior.

There are definitely some outstanding teams in Mass., but they're far from numerous. And, in the Merrimack Valley area, the talent can't quite keep up with those over the border.

Look at the final Fab 5 and you'll see Londonderry first and Salem second, with Pinkerton and Sanborn not far behind.

It's not that teams like Central Catholic and Methuen didn't have plenty of talent, but they each had a couple of defensive holes and their hitting was inconsistent once you got past the sixth spot in the order.

By contrast, Londonderry had seven batters over .300 for much of the season and it scared the heck out of Class L champ Concord while both Pinkerton and Salem were nearly as dangerous throughout their batting orders. Not to mention they were all hitting against pitchers from just 40 feet away, three feet less than in Mass.

Defensively, you can tell a lot in high school softball by the abilities of the outfielders, and they were top notch in New Hampshire. In Mass., the corner outfielders were generally not as impressive.

Also, New Hampshire seems to have more pitching. There are very few Class L teams that don't have a standout pitcher and several, including Londonderry and Salem, have at least two.

In a year noted for extraordinary young talent, Concord, Alvirne and Spaulding are among those who will return their aces next year, joining Londonderry and Salem in another competitive Class L race.