‘Coop’ provides the spark as Raiders blank Mountain Valley

RAIDERS SNAG A WIN — in the Class B softball preliminary with a 5-0 win over Mountain Valley keyed by timely hitting and sharp defense, including this catch by second baseman Julia Quinn. (Photo by Lakyn Osgood/FA)

RAIDERS SNAG A WIN — in the Class B softball preliminary with a 5-0 win over Mountain Valley keyed by timely hitting and sharp defense, including this catch by second baseman Julia Quinn. (Photo by Lakyn Osgood/FA)

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — With her team in need of a spark, Makayla Cooper delivered in a big way.

Cooper slammed a drive off the centerfield fence, scoring courtesy runner Caroline Condon from first base leading to a big inning as sixth-seeded Fryeburg Academy (12-5) blanked 11th-seed Mountain Valley 5-0 in a Class B preliminary softball tourney game Tuesday.

With rain in the forecast (and it poured for a short time late in the contest), Cooper provided the thunder Fryeburg needed as the Raiders struggled offensively through the first three frames.

“We needed a spark. A little bit of scouting I had on them was that she (the Falcon’s pitcher) was going to pitch a lot outside. We worked on it, but came out a little sluggish. We couldn’t hit that outside pitch,” Raider Coach Fred Apt said. “When Coop got that hit (with two out), it was a big spark. And, her base running was outstanding. I pinch run for her most of the season, but knowing now that I need her, I’m going to have her run. She’s fast.”

The Falcons executed relay throws perfectly with Condon just getting under the tag at home plate on a throw that was just a little high.

Cooper motored into third base, which was heads up base running because on the next pitch, Tina LeBlanc lined a drive into left field to make it 2-0.

Fryeburg had found its rhythm. Brooke Juneau put a hard grounder into the shortstop hole, and beat out a low throw to first base. After a walk to Faith Pelkie, Chloe Coen connected just enough to send the ball up the middle for a RBI single. Mackenzie Buzzell kept the rally going with a line shot to left on the first pitch she saw to score another run.

Julia Quinn made a strong bid to add to the Raider lead with a hard drive to the left, but the Falcon’s shortstop gloved it and forced Pelkie at third to end the inning.

“After Coop’s hit, we became a little more aggressive. Julia’s hit to end the inning was hit hard into the (shortstop) hole and we thought it was going through. Their shortstop made a nice play. Mountain Valley played pretty good defense,” Coach Apt said.

Up 4-0, the Raiders added another run in the fifth as Cooper walked with two out, and then scored when LeBlanc uncorked a laser to left that scooted past the Falcon outfielder for a RBI double.

Meanwhile, junior hurler Nicole Bennett was in full control. She allowed a walk in the first, retired the Falcons in order in the second, and worked out of a semi jam in the third. With one out, Casey Thibodeau reached on an error and stole second base. But, Bennett retired Emily Lobauskas on a fly ball out to third baseman Pelkie and ended the frame as LeBlanc smoothly handled a ground ball by Abby Mazza.

Sydney Petrie broke up a no-hit bid in the fourth when she lined a single to left with one out. Again, Bennett quickly ended the threat with a strikeout and fly ball out to right field. Bennett retired the next 11 hitters she faced to notch the shutout.

“I’m happy to get the first one out of the way,” Coach Apt said. “Getting Tina (LeBlanc) back at short is huge. Most people didn’t see her much in the regular season. She came up with two big hits today and made some nice plays at short. It also means Julia is back at second, where she belongs. She did a great job for us at short, but once Tina came back, we’re a different defense. We’re solid.”

Coach Apt also praised the work of his junior pitcher, who struck out four and allowed ? hits.

“Nicole has been steady all year long,” he said. “Defensively, we don’t give up a lot of runs.”

That kind of shutdown defense will be needed today, Thursday, when the Raiders travel to Cumberland to face Greely in the Class B quarterfinals.

The Rangers are the third seed at 13-3, which includes a 2-1 win in extra innings over the Raiders to start the season and a 6-1 win back on May 16.

“Going into Greely, we need to score earlier than this. We need to put pressure on them. They always play us tough,” he said. “I think we’re going there feeling pretty good about ourselves, and we’ll see. In the past, we’ve had teams that their mystique has gotten to us, we couldn’t battle through it. These know they can win. They’re excited about the chance.”

Greely is 8-0 at home this season. Fryeburg, meanwhile, is 5-3 on the road. Like many coaches have said throughout the season, this tournament is wide open.

“If you can get hot and play well, any team in this tournament could win it. Timely hitting and defense are going to do it,” Coach Apt said. “Pitching — other than York — isn’t overpowering. My feeling is we have the second best pitcher in the league based on runs given up and a solid defense. We’ll see how it plays out.”

The winner advances to the semis scheduled for Saturday.

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