Something is quite different about the New Hampshire Division 1 tournament, which gets underway tomorrow.
Perennial power Salem is not favored to win it.
And, based on the last two years, in which the Blue Devils faltered in the quarterfinals and finals while combining for an overall 41-3 record, maybe that’s a good thing.
The regular season doesn’t help in the tournament,” said Salem coach Harold Sachs, whose squad is 14-4. “It’s who is playing best at this time and who gets a couple of breaks. We hope it’s us, but you never know.”
And, in this case, in what looks to be the most wide open tourney in years with few dominating pitchers, the team that wins it all may be the team with the hottest bats.
Locally, Timberlane may have the most consistent batting order, led by Masha Lange, Christina Nye, Caroline Salvaneschi and the Bishop sisters Madison and Meghan, and be a strong contender.
The Owls have tailed off a bit in the last few weeks but they’re still a force and Sachs believes they may be the most balanced team in the field.
Salem has not hit consistently like Sachs expected this year but, led by Amanda Bickford and Hannah Latham, they’ve been stronger recently. Sachs is also concerned with his defense.
“It seems as if one day we have a great defensive day, and the next we don’t,” said Sachs. “Some days we are offensively explosive, and the next we are silent.”
With no consistency, teams with the best pitching usually prevail. That might give the favorite’s nod to Concord, which features the strong arm of Katie Kennard, followed by Dover.
Londonderry may not have the dominating pitching but the Lancers have played above most expectations and, behind the hitting of Leah Hunt and Cassidy Litch, can be dangerous. Pinkerton, too, has played well at times and, with Natalie Fabrizio, could be a spoiler.
Other teams to watch in the wide open field include Bishop Guertin and Spaulding, which has a fine pitcher in Sami West.
In Division 2, Sanborn and Windham split games this year and are both darkhorse contenders who could advance to at least the semifinals, while Pelham should be a challenger in its first year in Division 3.
Raiders suffer blow
In the MIAA tournament, local teams with the best chance of advancing far appeared to be Central Catholic in Division 1, North Reading in Divison 2 and Whittier and perhaps Georgetown in Division 3. But all have struggled at times with consistency and Central suffered a tough break last week when standout leadoff batter Krista Maloney suffered a concussion and may miss the tourney.
The Raiders have a strong pitcher in sophomore Olivia Antczak even if, perhaps bothered by a sore shoulder suffered last year, she’s not quite as effective as during her freshman campaign.
When Central’s defense is consistent and its bats are hot, they don’t need a pitching gem. Leslie Moore and Karoline Leavitt are at the heart of a batting order that can put up runs in a hurry.
Similarly, North Reading has an ace in senior Terri Ferrazzani and, when the Hornets’ bats are consistent, it can beat anyone. Tarah Reilly, Shelby Carney and Merri Moise are the Horents’ top offensive threats.
“The girls are licking their chops and ready for the tournament,” said North Reading coach Rusty Russell. “After last year, they feel they have something to prove.”
The Hornets, seeded No. 2 and 18-2, were stunned by No. 15 Saugus in last year’s first round.
A young Methuen team, with freshman catcher Kat LeFebre and sophomore Kelly Blackwell among those providing a boost for senior pitcher Chrissy Scionti, will be dangerous.
Whittier will go as far as its pitching (Kayla Riley) and defense will take it because the Wildcats have plenty of offense from the likes of Destiny Jordan, Cassey Glode and Josie Sanchez. On the other hand, Georgetown will hope its bats are hot to supplement the pitching of Jane Erlandson and its defense.