Last season, Penobscot Valley High School of Howland snapped Richmond’s 88-game winning streak in the state Class D championship game, 4-0, behind freshman pitcher Leine McKechnie’s no-hitter and three-run homer.
Richmond had won the previous four Class D state titles after PVHS captured the 2012 title by beating Richmond 4-2.
Richmond avenged that loss the following year 3-0.
The Howlers have picked up where they left off, winning all 11 games so far this season to run their winning streak to 31 games. They finished 20-0 a year ago.
“We know about our record but we don’t think about it,” said senior catcher Kortney McKechnie, Leine’s older sister.
Leine McKechnie said being the defending state champs and having the 31-game winning streak has “put a real large target on our backs” but that also keeps them motivated for every game.
“I just tell the girls to take it one game at a time and keep going,” said second-year head coach Pat Leonard.”We never look past anyone.”
Leonard and the McKechnie sisters agree that this team is even better than last year’s club even though it is a youthful team with 11 freshmen and sophomores on the 14-player roster.
They graduated just two starters off last year’s team in third baseman Elizabeth McKinnon and center fielder Miranda Brown.
They have been replaced by impressive freshmen Kara Theriault and Emily St. Cyr, respectively. Theriault and St. Cyr also provide reliable backup for Leine McKechnie in the circle.
“I was worried about replacing them at the beginning of the season but [Theriault and St. Cyr] have really filled those spots well,” said Kortney McKechnie. “Our batting order, one through nine, can really hit the ball.
“We’ve exceeded my expectations,” she added.
The defense has also been solid.
Another plus has been the further development of Leine McKechnie, who is even better this year after a dominant freshman campaign.
She already has three no-hitters and is sporting an 0.60 earned run average to go with her 10-0 record. She is averaging about 14 strikeouts per seven innings.
“She has gotten a lot better. She has put the work in,” said Kortney.
“She is mentally tougher and she is faster and has movement on her ball,” said Leonard, who is assisted by Steve Hope.
“I’ve really worked on trying to get more speed on my fastball and I’ve definitely improved my curve. That’s my best pitch,” said Leine McKechnie who works with pitching instructor Rick Roberts in Ellsworth and plays for the Portland-based Maine Thunder softball team.
The McKechnie sisters are the offensive catalysts and sophomore right fielder Morgan Banks has made huge strides at the plate, according to Leonard.
PVHS is hitting .400 as a team and has outscored its opponents 153-9.
Sophomore Lexi Ireland, a .750 hitter during the playoffs a year ago, returns at first base with junior Eryn Williams at second and senior Ryley Buck at shortstop where she is joined on the left side of the infield by Theriault.
Freshman Emma Buck, Ryley’s sister, is in left field with St. Cyr in center and Banks in right.
St. Cyr was away for five games and she was capably replaced by freshman Natalie Spencer.
Freshman Maddison Mathis and sophomore Lyndsay McKechnie, Kortney and Leine’s cousin, are reserve outfielders; freshman Makayla Sisco can play both infield and outfield and sophomore MacKenzie Thompson is a catcher-outfielder.
Leonard admitted that he wished their schedule was more challenging although they have had a couple of competitive games with Class C Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford (9-3, 8-0) and one with Class D rival Stearns of Millinocket in which the Howlers pulled away in the later innings to post a 13-3 victory.
The other eight wins have come by at least 12 runs.
“It’s frustrating,” said Leonard. “I definitely want [more] competition. There’s nothing like feeling the pressure because once you get used to it, when you get in real game-time situations, you don’t skip a beat.
“I would love to play teams like [Class C contenders] Mattanawcook Academy, Narraguagus and Bucksport or even [Class B] Ellsworth and Old Town,” said Leonard. *When you play those teams, you can show the girls where we are, where we need to be and how hard we need to work to get there.”
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