When Danielle Masterson was on the Reeds Brook Middle School softball team in Hampden, she was the team’s only pitcher.
She knew she would get the ball every game and that her team would be relying on her.
“So, if this is my [situation], I decided that I had to work hard. I had to be good. I wasn’t just going to sit back,” Masterson said. “I needed to put in the work.”
That work ethic has intensified over the years and is paying huge dividends this season, as Hampden Academy’s 5-foot-10 righthander is one of the state’s premier pitchers. She has struck out 136 hitters in 67 innings, an average of 2.03 strikeouts per inning.
“I tell the girls every day in practice that we have the best pitcher in the state,” said Hampden Academy coach Matt Madore.
Masterson struck out 19 in a one-hit 2-0 win over Bangor on Wednesday night, a week after she struck out 18 and tossed a six-hitter in a 1-0 loss to Skowhegan.
Skowhegan and Bangor met in the Class A North championship game last year and Skowhegan went on to win the state title.
Masterson currently has a 7-3 record and a save for the 8-3 Broncos. She has allowed only 27 hits and 20 walks with a 1.14 earned-run average. Opponents are hitting just .116 against her.
Her three losses were a pair of 1-0 decisions to Skowhegan and a 2-0 loss to Oxford Hills of South Paris, in which she threw a no-hitter.
“She is one of the best pitchers we’ll see,” said Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson.
Despite her success, this is her first season as the Broncos ace.
She shared the pitching chores with two others a year ago. Her sophomore year was the COVID-19 season, and she didn’t see action as a freshman.
Madore said when pitchers and catchers reported for their first workout and Masterson popped the catcher’s glove with a pitch, “I knew we had something special.”
Her work ethic is second to none.
She has two pitching coaches in Rick Roberts and Amanda Ryan and pitches “two or three times a week” in the offseason. Masterson also goes to the gym five times a week, depending on her school schedule, mixing her workouts between weight lifting and cardio.
“She truly loves the game,” said Brewer coach Skip Estes. “She is an extremely hard worker. The fact she goes to two pitching coaches is impressive.”
Masterson said she’s throwing harder this season, with more control of her pitches. Her arsenal includes a devastating riseball, curve, drop, change-up, fastball and her newest pitch, a screwball.
“She has a nice riseball,” said Bangor High coach Maureen Barron. “It looks so good [to the hitter], and then it’s not there.”
Masterson said another key to her success has been her mental toughness.
“If there is a runner on third, I don’t worry about it any more. I just focus on the next batter,” said Masterson.
She faced that situation against Bangor on Wednesday night after Emmie Streams tripled to lead off the fourth inning. Masterson had struck out the first nine hitters before Streams tripled.
The game was scoreless at the time.
Masterson bore down and struck out the next three hitters on nine pitches.
“When she is out there, she owns the situation,” Madore said. “And that’s a big difference from last year. She is a totally different pitcher this year.”
In addition to her pitching, she is also hitting .333 out of the three spots in the lineup. And she is a captain.
Hampden Academy’s eight wins matches the most in the regular season for a Bronco team since the 2012 team went 8-8.
Masterson, who also played field hockey at HA, said this year’s team has more competitive drive than last year’s, which went 7-9 during the regular season before losing to Bangor 5-3 in the first round of the playoffs.
Masterson said that if you told her before the season that she would strike out 18 Skowhegan River Hawks and 19 Bangor Rams in a game, she wouldn’t have believed it.
“It’s definitely a big confidence thing,” she said. “As we keep winning, it’s like OK, I can trust myself. I know what to do.”