The Penobscot Valley High School softball team from Howland had a little extra motivation Wednesday when it faced Stearns of Millinocket in the Class D North championship game at Coffin Field in Brewer.
Stearns had dealt the Howlers their only loss, 4-1, in Millinocket on May 21.
The Howlers, which beat Stearns 7-0 earlier in the season, avenged that loss as junior pitcher Leine McKechnie threw a no-hitter and belted a tie-breaking home run to lead them to a 6-1 victory.
It was Penobscot Valley’s third straight regional championship.
The Howlers, 18-1, will now face 16-2 Greenville, the Class D South champ, in a state-title rematch at St. Joseph’s College in Standish on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Greenville won last year’s game 4-3. The Howlers won the state title in 2017.
McKechnie said she never thought about her no-hitter.
“I just wanted to win this game because they gave us our only loss during the regular season, and we knew how that felt. We didn’t want it to happen again,” she said.
The hard-throwing, 16-year-old righthander struck out 11, walked three and hit a batter while throwing 91 pitches, 58 for strikes. The only run off her was unearned.
She also broke the school record for career strikeouts as she came into the game needing eight to tie it.
“She’s a real good pitcher,” Stearns senior left fielder Paige Russell said. “She’s super fast, nothing like we’re used to facing, and she hits her spots very well. We struggle to hit off her every time we face her.”
“I threw mostly fastballs and [hit my] spots,” McKechnie said. “I’ve been sick lately [allergies], and I’ve been trying to battle that. I just had to try to work past that and pitch like I normally do.”
McKechnie broke a 1-1 tie with a lead-off homer in the fourth inning over the left center field fence off Stearns freshman righty Alisyn Alley.
“I didn’t really hit well in our last game, so I knew I had to go up in the box and not try to kill the ball. I had to swing like I normally swing,” McKechnie said. “And things worked out. It felt like it was going shallow but when everybody started cheering, I knew it was good.”
Lexi Ireland followed with a double to right field as she hustled all the way and beat the throw from the right fielder.
Ireland stole third and Morgan Banks poked a one-out single to right to deliver her.
Penobscot Valley added three insurance runs in the sixth when Banks walked, Maggie LeBlanc reached on an infield single off the second baseman’s glove and Erynn Williams lofted a sacrifice fly to right that was misplayed for an error which allowed LeBlanc to score as well as Banks.
Williams scored on an Emily St. Cyr base hit.
The Howlers took a 1-0 lead in the first on a walk to Kara Theriault and Ireland’s opposite-field double into the right center field gap.
“The last couple of years, I’ve been going that way [opposite field],” Ireland said.
Stearns tied it in the third when Tatiana Mohoff drew a lead-off walk, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a throwing error on Alisyn Alley’s sacrifice.
Russell drew a lead-off walk in the fourth and stole second, but McKechnie bore down and struck out the next three hitters.
Mohoff was hit by a pitch to start the fifth and stole second as the next hitter swung through strike three. But McKechnie induced a grounder back to her and got another strikeout to end the threat.
She retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh innings to register her no-hitter.
Ireland was the only repeat hitter with her two doubles.