BREWER, Maine — When Julia Nicholas started playing ball, she had to play baseball with the boys because there was no youth softball program in town.
“I just started playing softball my freshman year,” said the Woodland Dragons’ catcher.
Three years later, she’s in a league of her own as the only senior on the first team from Woodland to win an Eastern Maine regional softball title.
Nicholas and the Dragons celebrated the historic title after beating Limestone Community School/Maine School of Science and Mathematics 4-1 in the EM Class D title game at Coffin Field Tuesday afternoon.
The 16-4 Dragons will take on West champ Buckfield in a 4 p.m. state final at Saint Joseph’s College Saturday.
Nicholas played a key role as half of the battery that limited a solid Limestone team to two hits. Junior righty Shelby Bassett was the other half.
“Right from the start, Shelby was pitching amazingly well,” Nicholas said. “Everything was a strike: Her drop ball, changeup, fastball, everything. She was really confident coming in. Her location was good and she got them to chase a lot of stuff they weren’t used to.”
Bassett started slow, but after escaping jams in both the first and second innings, and giving up an unearned run in the third, she settled down and retired 13 of the last 15 batters and pitched 1-2-3 innings in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
“I’ve seen her throw harder than she did today, but she seemed to be hitting spots pretty well,” said Dragons coach Rick Pullen. “She injured a muscle in her push-off leg and we lost three of four without her, but when she’s in there, we’ve only had one loss.”
Both Bassett and Limestone pitcher Jasmine Cote seemed to struggle in the noticeable heat and bright sunshine, but Bassett still racked up 12 strikeouts while issuing just four walks.
“It was a little difficult,” Bassett (14-1) said of Tuesday’s exceptionally warm weather. “I felt dizzy a couple times, but I worked through it.”
Bassett and Nicholas said the key was location, not speed.
“I could see they were starting to back away, so I started throwing it outside quite a bit,” Bassett said.
Bassett struck out the first two batters in the first, but after Victoria St. Pierre singled off her, she walked Stacy Bernier. The jam was short-lived as she struck out the next batter on three pitches.
In the second, Ashlyn Kelley reached on an error and then stole second and third. In the meantime, Myley Denslow drew a walk and stole second to put runners at second and third with no outs. Bassett struck out the next two batters and got out of the inning via a come-backer to the mound.
“She was throwing high heat in our eyes and we thought we liked that,” said Eagles coach Ryan O’Neal. “We were well prepared for her speed, but our pitch selection was not great.”
Limestone did finally score in the third with a one-out walk to St. Pierre, two stolen bases, and a throwing error by the catcher, but Woodland had a good answer.
The Dragons scored two in the fourth on Molly White’s leadoff double, a Nicholas walk, Bassett’s RBI single to left-center, and an outfield throwing error on the same play.
“That 2-1 lead seemed like 10-1 after we didn’t score,” said O’Neal, whose girls finish 14-5.
Woodland tacked on two more in the sixth with Ariel Knights’ leadoff walk, Marlene Flaherty’s one-out single, a passed ball, a steal and a two-tun single to right-center by No. 9 hitter Christine Boomer.
“I was just kind of waiting, hoping she’d throw me a strike and when she threw me one, I couldn’t take it,” Boomer said. “I swung and it was a pretty good pitch right over the plate.”
It was not only Woodland’s first softball title-game win, it was the Dragons’ first appearance in a softball final.
“When I took this thing over a few years back, they hadn’t won a game in two years,” said Pullen. “But we slowly got better. We lost 1-0 in the semifinals last year.”