EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 21, 2013

Atkinson connection

Atkinson quartet providing huge boost for Central

On softball
Dave Dyer

---- — No, they’re not a famous singing group, although they are becoming quite well known in Merrimack Valley Conference softball circles.

Their names are Leslie Moore, Karoline Leavitt, Olivia Antczak and Ally Cavanaugh and they’re all Central Catholic players from Atkinson, N.H.

They’re also at the heart of the Raiders’ hopes for postseason glory.

Leavitt, a sophomore third baseman, leads the team in RBIs with 24 and is hitting .448, Moore is a senior first baseman and a dangerous clutch hitter batting a team-leading .450, the sophomore Cavanaugh starts at second base and is batting over .300 and Antczak is the team’s ace pitcher (broke several school pitching records last year as a freshman) and a strong hitter (.387) with a stunning on-base percentage of .673.

Last week, Moore, Leavitt and Antczak combined for six RBIs in an 8-7 win over Methuen and all four of the Atkinson Raiders had two RBIs in a 9-7 win over Chelmsford.

Leavitt and Antczak have played on teams their whole lives, often with Cavanaugh, and the foursome have a strong bond that has helped the Raiders (15-2) get off to a stronger start than expected following the graduation of five starters from last year’s 19-5 squad.

“At the beginning of the season, I was a little unsure of what to expect because we were lacking experience,” said Leavitt. “But we had some key players back like me, Leslie and Olivia, and some other players have really stepped in.

“I’m more encouraged all the time. I think we can make a run in the tournament.”

The Raiders’ defense has not been quite as solid as in the past, but the hitting has been impressive all year, led by Leavitt, who has five home runs, seven doubles and two triples among her hits.

The younger sister of former football/wrestling star Mike Leavitt and standout golfer Joe Leavitt, she hit well over .300 last year, but she wasn’t satisfied.

“I’ve always been a solid hitter but I went in a slump in the middle of last year and I didn’t want that to happen again,” said Leavitt. “I worked on my hitting a lot during the winter, at least three times a week with my father at Play Ball.”

At the same time, Leavitt has been impressive defensively at third base. Until last year, she had always played shortstop but, with standout Alex Borrelli on hand last year, she switched to third base.”

“Now I probably like it (third) better,” said Leavitt. “You get a lot of action.”

Central Catholic coach Stacy Ciccolo couldn’t be more impressed with either Leavitt or the entire foursome.

“Karoline is incredibly athletic and has become one of the best third basemen in the league. She has great fire and enthusiasm,” said Ciccolo. “Leslie is an awesome first baseman and her glove has saved us several times. She was recruited by several schools and chose Babson.

“I can’t say enough about the character and work ethic of these girls. They are awesome team players and very unselfish.”

Methuen tourney

This week’s Methuen Tournament appears to be the most interesting and balanced in years.

Amesbury, which returns to the tournament after two years to replace Lawrence, has lost only once all year, high-scoring Whittier can bat with anyone and has only lost three times all year, Methuen is enjoying a fine 12-6 season and Andover, while struggling, is the defending champion and always plays well in the tourney.

Amesbury, coached by veteran Chris Perry (who has won more than 500 games and three state championships), is led by pitcher Jackie Merrill (1.11 ERA, 61 Ks, 12 walks in 69 innings) shortstop Amanda Schell and catcher Cassie Schultz. Whittier is paced by hitters like Destiny Jordan, Cassey Glode and Josie Sanchez, a young Methuen team gets leadership from senior pitcher Chrissy Scionti and is usually led at the plate by freshman Kat LeFebre and sophomore Kelly Backwell while Andover is fueled by senior Meg Leary.

“I think the field is pretty balanced,” said Methuen coach Jason Smith. “We are excited to have Amesbury back in our tournament. I have so much respect for coach Perry and what his program has accomplished over the years. They are a veteran squad that is having another great year.

“Andover always battles hard, especially in our tournament. ... Whittier puts up a lot of runs. Their offensive numbers are impressive. We know that we are in for a challenge on Friday.

“We always set several goals each year. One goal is always to win our own tournament. But, it is just as important is to perform at a high level at the end of the regular season. We hope to be running on all cylinders, play well, and use the momentum from those games and carry it over into the state tournament.”

Andover opens with Amesbury at 5 p.m. Friday with Methuen and Whittier at 7 p.m. The consolation and championship games are at 5 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

NA tourney

At virtually the same time as the Methuen Tournament is the North Andover Tournament.

Lowell faces Chelmsford at 4:30 p.m. Friday with the host Knights taking on Newburyport at 6:30. The consolation and championship games are set for Saturday at 4:30 and 6:30.

Like the Methuen Tournament, there is no huge favorite here. Chelmsford might rate a slight edge, but every one of the teams is capable of putting together two good games.

North Andover has struggled a bit without senior Courtney Green. She came back to catch last week but still isn’t able to hit.

Methuen tourney winners

2012 — Andover

2011 — Whittier

2010 — Methuen

2009 — Methuen

2008 — Andover

2007 — North Andover

2006 — North Andover

2005 — Methuen

2004 — Methuen

2003 — Methuen

2002 — Methuen

2001 — Andover

2000 — Andover

FAB 5 The Eagle-Tribune's weekly ranking of area softball teams: 1. Central Catholic 15-2 2. Timberlane 14-3 3. Phillips Academy 11-0 4. Salem 12-4 5. Methuen 12-6 Honorable mention: Whittier (13-4)