HAMPDEN, Maine — A champion will never give up its crown without a fight under any circumstance, and Mel Judkins and her Brewer softball teammates proved that Wednesday night.
Judkins, who had been battling the whooping cough earlier this spring, piled up a whopping 21 strikeouts while giving up one run on two hits as the defending Class A state champion Witches knocked off rival Hampden Academy 4-1 at the Weatherbee Complex.
Judkins, a junior righthander, had the Broncos swinging at air for most of the game, as her velocity was up in the low-to-mid 60s (mph), which is where she’s accustomed to being.
“It feels good that it’s finally back, because it lost some when I was sick,” said Judkins. “It felt way different, I didn’t feel like myself at all. My whole body felt dead and there was nothing I could do.”
Judkins, whose Witches improved to 8-4, was first hit with the illness before Brewer hosted Bangor May 4, and it got worse as that night went on.
“I went to the hospital at like 3 in the morning after we played Bangor,” she said.
Judkins was staked to a 2-0 lead before she even threw a pitch, as Katie McLaughlin and Emily Fraser led off the Brewer first with back-to-back singles and eventually came around on Emily Cox’s two-run single up the middle.
Judkins was in command right from the first of her 120 pitches (82 for strikes), as she set the first nine Hampden hitters down in order, needing only 39 pitches to do so.
“What I liked about her, she got ahead a lot, she didn’t walk a lot tonight and that’s what she needs to do is not walk,” said Brewer coach Skip Estes, who exuberantly exclaimed “Twenty-one, baby!” after the final out was recorded.
Judkins’ 21 strikeouts breaks Brewer’s single-game record of 17 previously held by Jordan McLain. Judkins walked only three.
The Witches got single runs in the fifth and sixth, with Leah Jackson driving one in with a single in the fifth and Jordan Nickerson laying down a run-scoring sacrifice bunt in the sixth.
Hampden got its lone run in the sixth on Sarah Lamberton’s RBI double down the left-field line.
“You score an earned run off [Judkins], you had to work for it,” said Hampden coach Rodney Wells. “She was on her game. We did a great job staying in the game, that’s all we could do.”
With Judkins starting to reach her peak, and Amanda Ryan also pitching well, the Witches will not be an easy opponent once the upcoming postseason looms.
“… They’re both on fire and I think that both of them can take us a long ways in the playoffs,” Estes said.Plus, the Witches have everyone back healthy, as Judkins wasn’t the only one to get struck by other illnesses.
“Not just her, but my whole team, we’ve been a revolving door,” Estes said. “This is the first week I’ve had all my players back.”
Fraser scored two runs and had two stolen bases while Jackson was the game’s lone multiple hitter with a single and a ground-rule double in the seventh that barely missed clearing the fence on the fly.
Olivia Plaisted singled for 3-9 Hampden’s other hit.