New Hampshire seems to be like the little engine that can.
In fact, in softball it’s the state than can do a lot. For much of the last 15 years, the best softball in the region has arguably been played in New Hampshire and that may not change anytime soon.
That was certainly the case this year. Well-rounded Timberlane won the Division 1 title, always-strong Salem lost in the Division 1 semifinals and beat the Owls in the regular season, and young Londonderry and Pinkerton teams were highly competitive.
In Division 2, meanwhile, Sanborn and Windham were among the elite teams, as was Pelham in Division 3.
Central Catholic, which was the top local team from the Bay State, was chock full of New Hampshire players. Four starters, including pitcher Olivia Antczak, were from Atkinson (and yet Timberlane still thrived!) while standout centerfielder Krista Maloney is from Windham and freshman Madison Borrelli resides in Salem.
It’s no wonder that one rival MVC coach calls Central “a New Hampshire all-star team.”
The New Hampshire rule should definitely continue next year. All of the above teams are extremely young with the exception of Salem and the Blue Devils return two sophomore pitchers and solid hitter Amanda Bickford and has plenty of young talent coming up.
Although there is a consensus that New Hampshire softball, at least in this area, is a step ahead, there is no agreement as to why.
Veteran Salem coach Harold Sachs, who is New Hampshire’s all-time leader in victories (540-75), has a few theories.
“I would say that every state has experienced a growth of lacrosse that is draining athletes away from softball (but) I believe New Hampshire is 3-5 years behind states such as Massachusetts and Connecticut,” said Sachs, who traditionally scrimmages — and beats — the top Mass. teams in the preseason. “Time will tell.
“There have also been some very strong programs in every classification in New Hampshire that have required the competition to work very hard to catch up. Perhaps old-fashion hard work and grit is making a difference in our state.
“Colleges such as SNHU, Plymouth State, and Keene State have been promoters of the sport, as well as enticing softball athletes on to their campus running clinics and hosting state tourneys. The upgrading of their facilities may also be helping.”
Sachs also cites strong summer programs, an explanation seconded by Sanborn coach Dan Carbone.
“I think it’s the summer ball,” said Carbone. “When I used to help coach the (New Hampshire) Elite team, we had a lot of players play up a level. They’d get great competition and then they’d bring the intensity back to their schools.”
Other coaches claim that it goes in cycles and that, before long, Mass. teams will be equal or superior. That could be but it’s turning into a long cycle.
Timberlane certainly stepped it up in the Division 1 tournament on its way to the championship. Team leader Masha Lange hit a whopping .583 in the tournament, freshman Ally Collins was at a stunning .600 and junior Christina Nye hit at a .384 clip.
Will miss Law
Led by two standout freshmen, pitcher Caitlin Catalanotto (1.90 ERA) and leading hitter Erin Thompson (.483), Sanborn has a bright future, but head coach Dan Carbone knows that he’ll miss senior centerfielder Elyse Law.
Not only did she hit .393 as the team’s leadoff hitter, but she was a tremendous baserunner and superb defensively.
”I really think she’s the fastest player in the state,” said Carbone. “She’s like a gazelle. I can’t tell you how many times she went from first to third on a bunt.
”In the outfield, she chases down balls better than anyone. It’s almost like she covers the whole outfield.”
Andover coach Steve Tisbert is enthusiastic about his young nucleus, but he knows it’ll be very difficult to replace senior shortstop Meg Leary.
Despite battling injuries, she hit .379 for the Golden Warriors, was a rock at shortstop and was the team’s MVP.
”We relied on her a lot — just a tremendous player,” said Tisbert. “In addition to the other things, she may have the best arm at our school. Although she plays shortstop, she consistently throws strikes to the plate from the outfield.”
The Eagle-Tribune's final 2013 ranking of area softball teams: 1. Timberlane* 19-3 2. Central Catholic 20-5 3. Phillips Academy 13-0 4. Salem 16-5 5. Methuen 14-7 Honorable mention: Whittier (18-7)