BREWER, Maine — When it comes down to a championship game, there is perhaps no factor more important than confidence.
With Kayla Dube in the circle and Penobscot Valley trying to defend its Eastern Maine Class D softball title, the Howlers had plenty to go around.
The senior right-hander pitched a five-hit shutout and was supported by ample offense as second-seeded Penobscot Valley earned a 7-0 victory over No. 1 Limestone Community School/Maine School of Science and Mathematics Thursday at Coffin Field.
“The biggest thing coming in was confidence and just being relaxed the entire game,” Dube said.
“I wasn’t as nervous coming in [after winning last year],” she added. “All the fans and everything, it didn’t bother me today.”
Coach Tom Coyle’s Howlers (17-1) play Western Maine winner Richmond (16-0) in Saturday’s 3 p.m. state-title game at Saint Joseph’s College in Standish.
Coach Ryan O’Neal’s Eagles closed out the season at 17-1.
PVHS won its second straight title, despite having to replace a handful of players from last year’s squad.
“That was the X factor. We had the experience,” Coyle said. “The girls had been on this stage before. Kayla knows what to do.”
Dube continued her domination of opposing batters against a youthful Limestone ballclub that collected five hits. However, the Eagles couldn’t cash in with any rallies.
Dube (18-1) did a good job of mixing pitches and throwing strikes. She struck out 10 and walked one while throwing 85 pitches, 69 for strikes.
“During the year we see a lot of slow pitchers who aren’t accurate and she was accurate [and fast],” said Limestone freshman Kassee Albert, who doubled and singled off Dube. “It was a lot different adjusting.”
The Eagles only had runners in scoring position twice and Dube bore down to escape the jams.
In the second, she got a strikeout after Albert’s two-out double. In the fifth, with Albert and Annie Sinclair on after one-out singles, Dube struck out the next two batters.
“She throws that really good rise ball and she throws just fast enough to make it really enticing,” O’Neal said. “They have to decide whether they’re going to swing or not and we don’t see anybody who throws that hard.”
Penobscot Valley scored all the runs it would need in the top of the first inning against Eagles junior right-hander Melissa Cantafio, who allowed only four hits and struck out four.
Shaelyn Jones drew a one-out walk, one of 11 issued by Cantafio, and scored when Jenna Hope lined a triple to center field.
“I always try to hit the first pitch, that’s my goal,” said Hope, a junior catcher. “That’s when I’m the most comfortable.”
Hope scored when Molly McGinn reached on a fielding error.
Hope also hit an RBI single during the Howlers’ two-run second inning. It was the only hit during a rally that included a fielding error, a walk and a wild pitch.
“That was the game plan, to get on them early and make them worry,” Coyle said.
“We always stress, you can’t learn pressure, you have to experience it,” he added.
Meghan Howley singled and scored in the sixth inning, and Arianna McKinnon had a single in the third. Britttany Moon scored twice and drove in a run in the seventh with a groundout.
Albert, one of eight freshmen on a Limestone team that had only one senior and three upperclassmen, paced the Eagles with a double and a single.
Chelsea Pelkey, Kelsee Albert and Annie Sinclair added a single apiece.
PVHS also played strong defense behind Dube and did not commit an error.
“Mostly confidence and working together as a team good,” Dube said have been keys to the Howlers’ success. “It was hard because we had so many new players and we needed to get used to working together and today I think we did a good job of that.”