The Mattanawcook Academy softball team from Lincoln returned to prominence last season after rare back-to-back losing seasons.
After not having a losing season since 2006, the Lynx went 6-7 in 2021, including a 4-1 loss to Bucksport in the quarterfinals, after going 7-10 in 2019 and being ousted in a 13-2 loss to Orono in the preliminary round. There was no 2020 season due to COVID-19.
But the team bounced back last season, with the Lynx going 19-2 and winning their first Class C North championship since 2001. They lost to Hall-Dale of Hallowell 5-1 in the state final.
The Lynx graduated four starters off last year’s team but standout pitcher Jennie Whitten and head coach Dean Libbey are optimistic about the team’s chances of returning to the state game.
“We can go all the way again,” said Whitten following her three-hit, 13-strikeout, 8-0 Tuesday win over Orono, which improved Mattanawcook’s record to 3-0.
“We have lost people but we’ve also gained people this year and we have some new components we didn’t have last year, which is nice,” she added.
Whitten indicated that the team chemistry is special.
“Everyone wants to win but, this year, everyone wants to win for each other, not themselves,” she said. “It’s refreshing to be part of that atmosphere.”
Libbey, too, believes the team will be as good as last year.
“But I keep pressure on them to be better than last year,” he added.
“We lost four senior starters who were all pivotal to our success. We’re still trying to find some youngsters to fill those shoes,” Libbey said.
He feels his players are motivated after last year’s regional title and state game appearance.
“I’m just not quite sure they’ve realized their potential yet and what skill level it’s going to take to get us back to the state game. We’re young but with each and every game we play, we keep getting better and that will get us there,” Libbey said.
The Lynx have a gem in Whitten.
The hard-throwing righthander overcame three surgeries, two to her ankles and one to her knee, to pitch the Lynx to the regional title last spring.
Those surgeries sidelined her for two soccer and two basketball seasons.
Whitten, who features a lively riseball, curve, drop, screwball and change-up in her pitching repertoire, tossed a one-hitter in the 10-0 C North championship game victory over Orono. She struck out 13 and didn’t walk anyone.
“She has been very good. She is healthier than she was last year,” Libbey said. “And she’s stronger, too.”
Whitten said she’s been able to workout more due to being injury-free. It helps her keep her strength up and prepare her for next year, when she will pitch for Thomas College in Waterville.
Whitten, an All-Penobscot Valley Conference Class C first team selection, is the only senior on the roster.
Lefthanded catcher Ava Sutherland is one of three juniors at the top of the lineup. The junior was an All-PVC first teamer a year ago.
She hits leadoff and is followed in the batting order by shortstop Lauren House, third baseman Natalie Tash, and Whitten.
Jillian Libbey, Dean’s granddaughter, returned as the starting first baseman but has suffered a knee injury and her status is unknown.
He is hoping his granddaughter will be able to play, saying “she will make us stronger.”
For the other starters, it is their first year taking on such a role.
Sophomore Lily Wotton is the center fielder, freshman Addison Cyr is the right fielder, sophomore Sophie Blosma is the second baseman, sophomore Grace Pelkey is the first baseman with Libbey sidelined, and sophomore Karlee Spinney is the left fielder.
Freshman Megan House, Lauren’s sister, sees action in the outfield.
Libbey said he expects the top of the lineup to be productive at the plate.
He received three hits apiece from Wotton and Cyr in the fifth and six spots in the order in Tuesday’s win over Orono.
Libbey, who has coached softball for more than 40 years, said he has a “very good” defensive team.
“In the past, we had some outfield issues but we’ve solidified some of those spots,” he said.
Mattanawcook Academy visited Lee Academy for a Thursday game.