The Gardiner High School softball team hasn’t won a state championship since 1980, when it was playing in Class A.
But the Tigers reached the Eastern Maine Class B final a year ago before losing to eventual state champ Oceanside of Rockland/Thomaston. They will enter this year’s playoffs undefeated following Monday’s 10-3, 10-inning win over Nokomis of Newport, which was also unbeaten at the time.
Gardiner (16-0) has outscored its opponents 182-15, despite having only three seniors on the roster.
The Tigers have scored at least 10 runs in 11 games, including the first nine.
“These girls love the sport,” said third-year coach Ginger Shaw. “A lot of them play the sport year-round and the ones who don’t are willing to work real hard all the time to get better. We have girls who play 150-200 games a year.”
The Tigers had only three seniors a year ago when they went 17-2, so they returned the vast majority of their team.
Gardiner was the top seed for the EM Class B playoffs a year ago and leads the Heal Point standings.
The Tigers’ lineup is imposing from top to bottom.
“Our lineup is strong. There are no weak spots. We’re solid all the way through,” said junior third baseman Lilly Chepke, whose two-out, three-run triple broke a 3-3 tie in the 10th inning against Nokomis.
In the Nokomis win, eight of the nine hitters had at least two hits and the other, Brittany Rollins, had a single.
“We work on hitting a lot,” said Rollins, a senior pitcher-first baseman.
“They’re a great team,” said Nokomis coach J.D. McLellan.
Sophomore second baseman Bri Brochu and Chepke are the table-setters at the top of the order.
The left-handed-hitting Brochu has an incredible on-base percentage, according to Shaw, and Chepke can do everything in the No. 2 spot.
Junior shortstop Morgan Carver, junior pitcher-first baseman Kristal Smith, freshman center fielder Lauren Chadwick and Rollins make up the potent middle of the order. Smith leads the team with two homers and Carver, who reached base five times against Nokomis, is a daring baserunner who puts pressure on the defense. Chadwick is a good contact hitter and Rollins is a strong long-ball threat with one homer.
Senior left fielder Kate Boyington sprays the ball to all fields out of the seven slot and Nos. 8-9 hitters Nicole Chadwick, a senior right fielder, and freshman catcher Julia Nadeau provide the Tigers with more offense.
The Tigers also enjoy the luxury of having two top-line pitchers in Smith (9-0) and Rollins (7-0).
Having two pitchers saves the wear-and-tear on each and Shaw pointed out that they are different types of pitchers so that diversity is helpful.
Smith throws harder and has a good curve while Rollins has a variety of pitches.
“Having two pitchers has been a key factor,” said Rollins. “We just try to go out there and keep our composure and push through things even if we get behind.”
Shaw added that the pitchers benefit from having solid defense behind them.
“We rely on our defense,” said Smith.
Another important component in their success has been the team chemistry.
“They play together as a team, they listen to their coach and she’s a good coach and they have fun,” said Oceanside coach Rusty Worcester. “They’re unselfish.”
Chepke noted that the team is versatile in that several players can play multiple positions.
Benefit game Saturday
The annual Pink softball game for cancer awareness between John Bapst of Bangor and Central of Corinth will be held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at O’Keefe Field on the Husson University campus in Bangor.
The exhibition game is designed to raise money for cancer awareness.
Central has set up a cancer awareness endowment named after Kristie Collins, a multiple-sport athlete at Central who died in a car accident in 2011 at the age of 22.
She graduated from Central in 2008.
“Kristie was very well-liked,” said Central athletic director Matt Arsenault.
Arsenault also said Central co-softball coaches Durice Washburn and Mike Trafton do an excellent job helping organize the game and that the school is proud of it.
“It’s a nice event,” said Trafton.
Class C Central takes a 12-3 record into a Wednesday’s regular season finale against Orono. Class B John Bapst was 6-9 entering Tuesday’s game against Foxcroft Academy.