Losses can sometimes be beneficial.
The Brewer High School softball team had a 31-game winning streak and a state Class B championship to its credit when it faced Class A archrival Bangor on May 21.
Bangor upset the Witches 6-3.
Just three days later, another Class A rival, Hampden Academy, edged Brewer 7-6.
But the Witches rebounded in impressive fashion, providing the school with its first-ever back-to-back softball titles by virtue of a 7-1 win over York in the state championship game.
Brewer outscored its four playoff opponents 32-8.
“After our loss to Hampden, we had a [players-only] team meeting after practice,” junior shortstop Kenzie Dore said. “We came together, focused and became a family. That helped a lot. We made goals for ourselves, what we expected to do in the playoffs.”
For the second straight year, it was pitcher Libby Hewes leading the way in the postseason.
The senior right-hander threw four complete games and concluded her career allowing only 13 runs in eight Class B playoff games over the last two campaigns.
“Libby is as competitive as they come. She locks in pitching, defensively and offensively,” Brewer coach Skip Estes said, calling Hewes the best fielding pitcher he has coached.
Hewes explained that the Witches were focused on reaching their goal.
“We came with a purpose and we knew if we got our jobs done as individuals, we’d be successful as a team,” Hewes said.
Brewer knew it had a tough task in the state final, facing York pitcher Abby Orso, the Maine Gatorade Player of the Year. The Witches pounded out 13 hits in their victory.
“During practice, we had the pitching machine up faster than we normally do,” said Dore, who belted a three-run home run to key the win.
“Coming in as the away team, we needed to score early and we did. After that, we had confidence in each other.”
Estes said his players are devoted to softball.
“They put a lot of time into the game. The hard work pays off,” Estes said.
With the exception of the 12-4 win over Hermon in the Class B North final in which they committed four errors, the Witches played nearly airtight defense as they had all season.
Dore said this year’s state title was even more enjoyable than in 2018, when the Witches went 20-0.
“Maybe after losing those two games, people felt we were beatable,” said Dore, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class B North Player of the Year. “But by winning the state, we proved them wrong.”
Dore admitted the state title came as somewhat of a surprise to her.
“I thought teams would want to kill us and the nerves would get the best of us, [the pressure of] wanting to repeat would get into our heads. Fortunately, it didn’t happen,” Dore said.
Hewes said she was confident the Witches would repeat and she knew by the players’ demeanor on the bus ride to the game that they were going to beat York.
Brewer will return to Class A next season after a dominating two-year stint in Class B, where they were undefeated against Class B opponents.
There will be changes as Hewes, catcher Jordan Goodrich, center fielder Becca Gideon, right fielder Olivia Cattan and left fielder Ali Cottrell graduate.
Dore and second baseman Kathryn Austin will be seniors and first baseman Mia Cattan, designated player Janessa Bishop and third baseman Sarah Wood will be juniors.
Kate West, who will be a senior, is the heir apparent to Hewes in the circle.
“We’ll still be competitive but we won’t be as dominant,” Estes said. “You never know from one year to the next.”
He said he expects his returnees to be improved and he will rely on reserves and newcomers to fill the void left by the departing players.
“There won’t be any pressure on us. I’m looking forward to it,” Dore said.