OLD TOWN, Maine — Two years ago, 14-year-old freshman Olivia Albert pitched Old Town to the state Class B softball championship, allowing only six runs in four playoff games.
Last year, junior McKenna Smith was in the circle for the Coyotes during the playoffs and tossed four consecutive shutouts to lead them to another Class B state title. She allowed just eight hits in those four playoff wins and struck out 54. She struck out 19 and tossed a three-hitter in the state title game win over Fryeburg Academy, 2-0.
Old Town head coach Jenn Plourde certainly has a nice dilemma on her hands as both are ready to go in the Coyotes’ quest to claim a third straight state championship and a fourth in seven years.
And whoever isn’t pitching will be the starting shortstop.
Old Town will open the season against arch-rival Orono on Wednesday at 1:30 at the University of Maine’s Kessock Field in Orono.
Smith is coming off an incredible season in which she finished with a 13-1 record, a miniscule 0.82 earned run average and a whopping 182 strikeouts in 90 innings.
How does she follow a season like that?
“I’m just going to take it one step at a time and have everyone support me,” said Smith, who has accepted an athletic scholarship to play at Division II Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire next fall. “Hopefully, I can do better and let it happen. I’m not going to try to push it.
“My teammates make me who I am. They push me to do things and always back me up. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to do as well as I have,” Smith added.
She said she has been doing more “reps” and is continuing to focus on the mental part of her game.
“I want to make things cleaner and make sure nothing disrupts what I’m doing. I’m staying focused,” said Smith.
Having two top-quality pitchers enables Plourde the opportunity to save their arms.
“It’s a great benefit,” said Plourde. “It helps to make sure they’re both fresh for the playoffs. It also means they can easily come in and relieve each other if that needs to be the case.”
“It’s great having another pitcher who can do her job. I love it,” said Smith. “It also gives teams different looks. The way I pitch is way different than Liv.”
Smith overpowers hitters with her velocity. Albert is more of a finesse pitcher who hits the corners, has good movement on her pitches and keeps hitters off-balance.
“It’s a great mix,” said Albert.
“They’re very different pitchers,” said Plourde.
Albert enjoys watching Smith pitch from her shortstop position.
“I love it. I love playing the field and watching McKenna pitch,” said Albert. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. There’s nothing to worry about.”
Albert said she has been “working on my whole game, in general.”
“We are very thankful we have them,” said senior right fielder Morgan Love.
“We love having them out there,” agreed senior center fielder Jasmine Smith.
The Coyotes will be the team to beat in Class B North because they return seven starters off last year’s 18-2 team including Smith and Albert.
Smith and Albert said they know there is a target on their teams’ back but they take it in stride.
“Every year there’s more and more pressure because we get experience showing up at those (state championship) games and coming home with the title,” said Smith. “Each year there are new teams and they want to come right back at us.”
“It’s a new year and anyone can beat anyone else on a given day,” said Albert. “You have to work hard every game. There’s some pressure sometimes but we have people who can get it done.”
In addition to the exploits in the circle, Smith and Albert are also the Coyotes’ offensive catalysts.
Smith, the Penobscot Valley Conference’s Pitcher and Player of the Year last season, hit .417 with four homers and 23 runs batted in.
Albert also hit over .400 and had a run-scoring single in the 7-0 Class B North semifinal win over Hermon and two singles in the 1-0 eight-inning victory over Oceanside of Rockland-Thomaston in the regional championship game.
Plourde said her team should be “pretty competitive.
“Our motto is to get one percent better every day,” said the seventh-year coach.
The first-year starters will be catcher Jayden Cain and third baseman Mikayla Kenny, who are both sophomores.
Sophomore Hannah Sibley returns at first base, senior Olivia Westura is back at second with Jasmine Smith and Love starting in the outfield.
Sophomore Jannessa Brown, who got the game-winning two-out, bases-loaded single that beat Oceanside in the bottom of the eighth, is one of the left field options along with senior Corinne Saucier and junior Emily Ketch.
Sophomore Teagan Blackie will see time at second and freshman Hannah Sirous is a back-up catcher-infielder.
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