One would be hard-pressed to find many high school softball teams that have won 37 games over the past two seasons.
The Penobscot Valley girls from Howland can make that claim, having gone 37-3.
Standout ace right-hander Kayla Dube has graduated, but virtually everybody else has returned. That leaves coach Thom Coyle with a team that could very well find itself in another state championship game.
Sophomore Arianna McKinnon who, similar to Dube, trains with pitching guru Bob Mercer of Bucksport, will inherit Dube’s spot in the pitching circle.
“She knows she has big shoes to fill,” said Coyle. “We may not be able to go out there and take advantage of someone throwing no-hitters or one-hitters [such as Dube], but Arianna has three good pitches, and she has confidence. She has learned [how to pitch]. And she comes off the mound as well as anybody.”
“She can throw the ball. She’s going to be our secret weapon,” said senior third baseman Shaelyn Jones.
“She’s tall and lean and gets a real good push off the mound,” said senior shortstop Molly McGinn. “She’s going to surprise a lot of people. She has real good control and real good spin on the ball.”
Coyle said McKinnon features “a drop, a very good rise ball and one of the best change-ups around.”
McKinnon shouldn’t have to be letter-perfect because the Howlers averaged 12.5 runs per game a year ago before Richmond’s Jamie Plummer four-hit them in the state game.
She will be surrounded by talented multi-year starters in the infield, behind the plate and in the outfield.
Senior Brittany Moon and junior Meghan Howey are two-year starters at first and second, respectively. McGinn and Jones are four-year starters on the left side of the infield, although McGinn spent a couple of seasons in the outfield before making the transition.
Senior Jenna Hope is a four-year starter behind the plate and will be a calming influence on McKinnon.
Sophomore Malloree Workman will be in left field, junior Morgan Moon, Brittany’s sister, will inherit the center field job vacated by the departed Bethany Heald and Kasha Sereyko, a junior, will play right field. Moon is the only one who hasn’t had significant playing time.
Coyle said he has a good bench, including three promising sophomores — Sophia Carson, Brittany Jesse and Eryn Tuulima — he can plug into the designated player spot.
Freshman Elizabeth McKinnon, Arianna’s sister, is another solid DP candidate.
Speedy switch-hitter Howey is a prototypical top-of-the-order hitter who knows how to work the count and get on base, according to Coyle.
The coach added that Jones, McKinnon, Hope and McGinn are exceptional middle-of-the-order run-producers.
Hope and Jones were All-Penobscot Valley Conference selections a year ago along with Dube, according to Coyle.
Coyle also said that a running program has been implemented that will help capitalize on the team’s speed and aggressive baserunning.
The team knows it will have a target on its back, but the Howlers aren’t going to let that bother them in the quest for a third straight Eastern Maine title and state championship game berth.
“We’ve learned that we really hate losing,” said McGinn. “Any time we do, we learn from it, and we work that much harder to not let it happen again.
“For the seniors, this is our last sports season together, so we want to make it special,” added McGinn.
“Most of us have been playing together since we were 10 years old,” said Jones. “We really want to make it back to the state game.”