STANDISH, Maine — The Penobscot Valley High School softball team did some extra preparation to face ace Greenville pitcher Halle Pelletier in Saturday’s Class D softball state championship game.
The Howlers invited hard-throwing Searsport pitcher Jenna Keach to throw them batting practice on Friday. Those efforts, and a ton of patience, paid dividends on Saturday afternoon.
Penobscot Valley of Howland reached Pelletier for eight hits, but also worked her for 15 walks and three hit batters to grind out an 11-6 victory for the state title at sun-drenched Saint Joseph’s College.
“Last year we had a little more pressure on us,” PVHS junior pitcher Leine McKechnie said. “This year, we just had to go out and have fun. We had a title to take away, not a tile to defend.”
Coach Pat Leonard’s Howlers (19-1) claimed their second championship in the last three years, avenging last year’s loss at the hands of the Lakers.
After a season during which PVHS faced only one hard thrower (Keach) and with lingering memories of the 2018 title game during which the Howlers could not lay off Pelletier’s rise ball, they adjusted.
“Jenna is the only one who pitches that type of velocity against us,” Leonard said of bringing in Keach to pitch batting practice.
“We were disciplined. These girls making that adjustment shows you how talented hitters they are,” he added.
This time, the Howlers exhibited better patience and discipline against Pelletier, who struggled with her control.
“We know she’s a good pitcher. We just needed to stay out of our (own) heads a little bit,” said sophomore shortstop Kara Pelletier, who led PVHS with three singles, an RBI and two runs scored.
“We just had to get up in the counts and either swing early [at good pitches] or be patient and wait for a walk,” she added.
McKechnie was in the circle for the third straight state game and scattered eight hits. Two of the runs she allowed were unearned.
“I am so tired. I was not expecting that at all, but I can rest later,” McKechnie said of the hot, three-hour game during which she struck out 11, walked three and hit a batter while throwing 152 pitches.
McKechnie explained that she and her fellow juniors also had faced Greenville in a title game as eighth-graders.
“This was our third time playing them, so that extra motivation made us really want to come out on top today,” McKechnie said.
Pelletier, a junior righty, kept the Lakers (16-3) in contention into the sixth inning, when PVHS scored seven times to turn a 4-4 tie into a seven-run cushion.
“Obviously, we didn’t play as well as we hoped. We picked a bad day to have a bad day,” said Greenville co-head coach Mike Cabral, whose team committed five errors.
Pelletier, who had a 7-to-1 strikeouts-to-hits ratio this season, had trouble locating her inside fastball and was often high with her rise ball.
“She typically does not walk people,” Cabral said, praising Pelletier for a determined effort during which she threw 208 pitches. “There was nothing glaring in her mechanics.”
Morgan Banks ignited the sixth-inning uprising with a hard single to right field, moved up when Natalie Spencer walked, and took third when Erynn Williams reached on a one-out error. Emily St. Cyr and Theriault followed with RBI singles to center.
After McKechnie walked to force home a run, Lexi Ireland rammed a two-run single to center to make it 8-4. The next run scored on a wild pitch and Maggie LeBlanc’s bases-loaded walk capped the rally.
Morgan Noyes (RBI) and Tiegan Murray posted two singles each to lead Greenville and Pelletier added a run-scoring single.
The Lakers scored the first two runs as Pelletier delivered an RBI single in the first and an error, a stolen base and a passed ball made it 2-0 in the second.
PVHS equalized in the third without benefit of a hit as Spencer and LeBlanc drew bases-loaded walks. Greenville retook the lead in the third as Pelletier walked, Murray singled and Noyes stung an RBI single.
The Howlers went back on top with two in the fourth on Ireland’s RBI single and an outfield error on the play that allowed a second run to score.
The Lakers tied it in the fifth on Emily Vraux’s pop-fly RBI single to center to plate Aleya Pelletier (hit by pitch).