It was cloudy, it was cold, but for the first time in a long time, it was gameday for the Keene High softball team.
Behind senior Emma Bartlett’s 15 strikeouts, a career high, the Blackbirds (1-0) scraped by with a 1-0 shutout over Trinity High School (0-1) in Keene Monday.
Bartlett’s strikeout total is also the most by a Keene High pitcher over the last four years.
“She had a lot of poise today,” said head coach Peter Vearling of his senior pitcher. “She was doing a good job getting ahead of hitters and she didn’t get lazy. She was moving [the ball] around. I was quite impressed.”
“It was awesome to just get out there again,” Bartlett said of her outing. “You just have to have confidence in yourself.”
An RBI double to left field in the fourth inning from sophomore Sydney MacLean was all the offense Keene needed in the pitchers’ duel.
MacLean was one of six underclassmen to start in the field for the Blackbirds.
“I thought [the underclassmen] did a nice job for their first varsity game,” Vearling said. “It’s a work in progress — it always is — but I think they did what they needed to do today.”
Overall, the young group kept calm in a close matchup from the start. In any one-run contest, one mistake could be the difference between winning and losing, and the Pioneers put some pressure on Keene in the sixth inning.
With two outs in the inning, Trinity’s Emma Service singled and made her way to second base on a passed ball, threatening to tie the game on any ball in play.
So Bartlett did what she does best and got the next batter swinging to end the inning and preserve the 1-0 lead.
“I thought [the team] did a nice job of keeping their poise today,” Vearling said. “That’s definitely huge because all it takes is a mistake or two and you’re in hot water.”
It was a shaky start offensively for the Blackbirds, only coming up with three hits against Trinity’s ace, Kiera Gilman, who was sharp herself, recording eight strikeouts.
“That’s a seasoned pitcher we faced,” said Vearling, alluding to Gilman’s strong performance for Trinity. “She kept us off balance.”
But the stellar defense and pitching from the Blackbirds made up for the lack of offensive production.
Freshman Makenzie Neese stepped up in a big way defensively from right field, a position she’s not used to playing, fielding a hard-hit ball in the outfield and stealing away a base hit with a bullet to first.
“I thought that was a nice play,” Vearling said. “That girl hit that ball solid, line-drive shot. [Neese] fielded it on one hop and threw her out by a mile. I was very impressed by that.”
It was the second out of the inning and it kept the defensive momentum going after Keene had set down 11 straight Pioneers.
After the brief scare in the sixth, the Pioneers went down 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh inning after senior Laurel Clace recorded two unassisted outs at first base and Bartlett struck out a batter to seal the deal.
The Blackbirds have a quick turnaround, traveling to Swanzey Tuesday to face Monadnock at 4:30 p.m. Vearling said he still has some decisions to make about the lineup in the second game of the back-to-back.