Skowhegan High School will contend for a state Class A softball championship every year.
It’s a given.
After all, the River Hawks have won six Class A North titles over the past eight years and two state championships, including last year’s 7-4 win over Biddeford. Over the past three and a half seasons, Skowhegan has gone 55-2 in regular season play.
And after losing just two players off last year’s team, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the River Hawks are 8-1 this season after Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Hampden Academy, their second 1-0 win over the Broncos this season.
Lee Johnson, who has been the head coach since 2000, said the loss of third baseman Mariah Whittemore and right fielder Logan Wing shouldn’t be downplayed.
“They were two key players for us. Mariah was definitely our emotional leader. We’re still trying to figure out how to replace that leadership role,” Johnson said. “The seniors have stepped up and done a good job. But we still have some growing to do.”
Senior shortstop and 2021 KVAC Class A Player of the Year Jaycie Christopher said Skowhegan has the pieces and camaraderie for a championship team but needs to find its competitive spirit.
“We’ve had a little bit of trouble coming in with energy and fire so we’re just trying to figure things out,” Christopher said. “We want to come out every day and compete for each other and with each other and have fun.”
Christopher, who is going to play basketball at Boston University next season, is the offensive catalyst. Her double delivered the only run of the game on Wednesday.
“She can do a lot of different things. She can drive in runs, she can get on base and steal bases. She will do whatever helps us the most,” Johnson said of Christopher.
Christopher usually hits in the middle of the order, but she was the leadoff hitter against Hampden Academy, and it paid off when she knocked in No. 9 hitter Maddy Morris, who had also doubled.
Hard-throwing junior Sierra Carey, who threw a four-hitter against Hampden Academy, has returned as their ace in the circle.
“She’s awesome. She’s a great pitcher,” said Hampden Academy coach Matt Madore.
Carey, Christopher, junior left fielder Callaway LePage and senior catcher Emily Dunbar are the power threats along with senior first baseman Riley Fitzpatrick, who has the team’s only home run this season.
The River Hawks hit 15 homers a season ago.
Skowhegan also has speed in its lineup in the likes of Christopher; the Morris twins, sophomore second baseman Maddy and center fielder Annabelle; and senior right fielder Reese Danforth.
Sophomores Lilly Noyes and Carlie Jarvais and freshman Natalie Gilman can all play third base. Noyes started at third against Hampden Academy and Gilman was the designated player.
Noyes is also a quality No. 2 pitcher, according to Johnson.
Johnson has two senior outfielders who will get some playing time in Emma Smith and Annah Perkins.
The team is solid defensively, and the River Hawks turned in several good plays against Hampden Academy, including a sliding catch by right fielder Danforth that preserved the win.
“We always preach to Sierra to throw strikes, and we’ll make the plays behind you,” Christopher said. “Trusting each other to make plays is a recipe for success.”
Johnson said this team has the potential to be as good as last year’s.
“Last year’s team was a very complete team. There weren’t any weaknesses. We played very good defense [and] we pitched well,” said Johnson. “This year, we’re still trying to find some consistency on the offensive side a little bit.”
He said they have all had good stretches at the plate, but he would like to see all of them hitting well at the same time.
“They’re a great team,” Madore said. “They’re well-coached, and they’ve played together since they were 8 years old.”
Johnson said winning Class A North again isn’t going to be easy.
“The pitching has been very good. It has been more consistent throughout the league.”