HOPKINTON — In this, the season of upheaval in the COVID-19 era, it sure is heartening when a sense of normalcy permeates the scene.
That was definitely the case Wednesday in the Division III baseball and softball semifinals, where Monadnock Regional High and Hopkinton High squared off on adjacent diamonds for the right to play for state championships. Picking up where these storied programs left off over the last few decades, Monadnock’s baseball team cruised to a 13-0 win in six innings, while simultaneously Hopkinton’s vaunted defending champion softball squad squelched the upstart Huskies, 6-0.
Monadnock will face Somersworth, a winner over White Mountains Wednesday, in the hardball championship game Saturday at 4 p.m. at Robbie Mills Park in Laconia.
Intrepid — and maskless — fans could watch both games clearly on a banking between the fields, but missing were the trappings of conventional state semifinals: no bleachers, no public address system, no neutral field, no programs, heck, no admission costs. But it was baseball and softball under a blue sky dotted with puffy clouds, and Monadnock was able to enjoy its longest road trip of the season after being restricted to regional play all spring. Here’s how the day went:
Before the game, Monadnock Coach Tom Cote quietly implored “this park is ours today” and his players wasted no time in heeding his words. Ben Dean, the third batter of the game, lined a two-run homer over the temporary left-center field fence and the Huskies were on their way to a 13-0 victory. They scored a third run in the first inning, added three more in the middle innings and seven in the sixth to invoke the 10-run mercy rule.
“It was good to see Benny hit that home run,” Cote said. “It totally energized our entire team, gave us everything we needed the rest of the way.”
It was a balanced Husky attack, with just about everyone in the lineup joining in the fun. Trevor Heise, whose bat has caught fire late in the season, led the way with a 3-for-4 afternoon and had plenty of company on base. Hayden Haddock and Nate Doyle had two hits apiece, while Victor Lotito, Carson Shanks, Colin Donnelly, Kevin Putnam and Dean had one.
“Everybody produced. Got on base. Scored a run. Got an RBI,” Cote said.
Coming off a sterling outing against Fall Mountain Regional Saturday in the quarterfinals, Putnam started and pitched 4.2 innings. He struggled a bit with his command early, but sailed through the middle innings and threw only 74 pitches. That means he’s available for a full day’s work Saturday in the state championship game, if the Huskies call his number. And Cote sounds like a coach who has it on speed-dial.
Donnelly finished off the shutout in relief.
Playing on Blood Field, named after coaching legend Dick Blood, whose teams won eight state titles and went 264-43, Hopkinton senior right-hander Megan Kimball-Rhines has taken her place in the pantheon of pitching excellence in Hopkinton. Kimball-Rhines has been a handful for all opponents, and Monadnock was no exception. She allowed only one hit — a bunt single by Monadnock’s Nicole Braley in the third — and struck out 13.
A couple of throwing errors in the early innings led to Hopkinton’s six runs, and it was pretty clear Kimball-Rhines wasn’t about to give the Huskies a sniff of a comeback.
But they didn’t leave dispirited, not after a spirited season that saw a plethora of underclassmen exceed expectations. Touting a sophomore-laden lineup, several Huskies went straight from middle school to varsity due to the coronavirus disruptions, and Coach Chad Beede is optimistic about the future.
“It didn’t quite end the way we wanted, but that’s okay,” Beede said. “From where we started to where we are today, we’re a completely different team.”
Kimball-Rhines pitched Hopkinton to the state championship in 2019, the last year it was held, so the Huskies knew what they were up against. Meanwhile, Monadnock junior Grace LeClair kept her composure in the circle all afternoon, even after some miscues behind her that might have rattled other pitchers.
Instead, the Huskies never let the Hawks get totally away from them. They even turned the tables on a Hopkinton’s aggressive baserunners a couple of times by capturing two of them in rundowns between third and home, and saving two runs.
“We have each other’s backs,” Beede said. “But you can’t make mistakes against them.”
Hopkinton will play for its second straight title against Campbell Saturday at 2 p.m. at Memorial Field in Concord.
And Monadnock is hoping even brighter days are ahead.
“I really like our future. To get to this level and this far, I’m pretty proud of them,” Beede said.