For seven members of the Southern Aroostook High School softball team, it has been a memorable seven months.
In March, they annexed the school’s first basketball state championship in 23 years by virtue of a 53-37 victory over defending state champ Vinalhaven in the Class D final. Vinalhaven had won 33 games in a row.
Now Southern Aroostook is going into the Class D North softball playoffs undefeated (14-0) and the top seed with defending state champ Penobscot Valley of Howland (16-0) right behind.
The seven Southern Aroostook players who played both basketball and softball are currently sporting a combined record of 34-2 between the two sports.
Junior Kylie Vining, who had 10 points in the state basketball final, is the ace of the pitching staff and said there is “definitely” a momentum carryover from basketball to softball.
“We’re all excited to play. Most of us play all three sports [including soccer],” said Vining.
The Dyer Brook-based Warriors went 7-4-3 during the regular season in soccer. Six of the seven played on the soccer team.
“They are all very athletic,” said softball coach Robert Betschner.
The Warriors went 14-3 in softball last season and were the top seed after going 12-2 during the regular season.
They lost four starters off last year’s team and have just 11 players. The only senior is left fielder Emily Bubar but Bertschner said she is actually a junior but will be able to graduate a year early.
Besides Vining, the other six players who were also on the basketball team are sophomores Makaelyn Porter and Sydney Brewer and freshmen Selena Botting, Kacy Daggett, Paige Vose and Emma Nadeau.
Despite her team’s youth, Vining said she thought this year’s team would be “better than last year’s” and that has come to fruition so far.
One of the reasons is Vining’s improvement.
She was very good a year ago, pitching a five-hitter in the North final with 13 strikeouts, but she has taken her game up a notch, according to Bertschner.
He said she has struck out over 150 batters and she hasn’t had to pitch every game because Daggett and Nadeau have seen some time in the circle.
“Every year, she gets better,” said Bertschner, who has been the coach since 2005. “When she stays focused on the hitters, she’s hard to beat. She’s pretty competitive. She keeps us in games. But it’s been good to have extra pitchers in order to give her a break.”
Vining has added a change-up to her arsenal of pitches while working with Shelby Slauenwhite this winter.
“I’ve used it quite a few times and it has been pretty effective,” she said. “And my drop and curve are better than they were last year.
“I’ve still got a ways to go but I’ve taken a good step in the right direction,” she added.
Sophomore Alexis Hartin is the catcher with Daggett at first, Vose at second, Porter at shortstop and sophomore Aliyah Morales moving in from the outfield to play third.
Bubar is in left, Nadeau patrols center field and junior Aaliyona Wenzloff is the right fielder. Sophomore Brewer plays left and center field and Botting sees action in right field.
Betschner said the 5-foot-10 Daggett is one of the best first basemen he has ever coached, saying she not only uses her size to reach high throws but she is equally adept at digging balls out of the dirt.
Betschner said his team has been solid, defensively.
Vining, Vose, Porter and Hartin have been the offensive catalysts but Betschner said the team needs to be more productive offensively. The team has more speed in the past which has been beneficial.
Southern Aroostook hosts a quarterfinal on Thursday against the winner of a prelim between Madawaska and Central Aroostook of Mars Hill.
Editor’s note: The name of Southern Aroostook softball coach Robert Betschner was spelled incorrectly in the original version of this story.