The streak finally ended Saturday, on the St. Joseph’s College field where so often it had been extended into another spring. A groundout to first put an end to the Richmond softball team’s desperate attempt to rally in the Class D championship game against Penobscot Valley, and the Howlers wasted little time living up to their name in celebration, having finally become the team to upend the mighty Bobcats on the year’s biggest stage.

The streak was finally over. And what a streak it was.

With the 4-0 loss, Richmond’s run was officially sealed at 88 games. It lasted five years, beginning with the opening game of the 2013 season and ending in the last one of 2017. The Bobcats and star pitcher Leandra Martin fell to Penobscot in the 2012 Class D state title game. On Saturday, Penobscot again stopped the Bobcats and another standout Martin — Leandra’s younger sister, Meranda.

Richmond climbed into the national rankings, ending up as the fifth-longest high school softball winning streak of all time, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

It linked generations, with some players contributing to a run their siblings would help continue in the years to come. It began with one coach, and continued to stretch on and on with another.

While it was going on, players and coaches often downplayed it, keeping the focus on the smaller picture. Once it was over, however, it became time for perspective on what was a historic accomplishment.

“It’s the end of a chapter, as far as the seniors I’ve grown up with,” junior catcher Sydney Tilton said. “It’s a happy feeling now. It’s kind of like let’s step back, take a breath, recline and pat ourselves on the back for once for the accomplishments that we made for not only our town but our school and our community and ourselves.”

“It’s amazing. It feels good to be part of that program,” coach Tony Martin said. “It’s a big deal, but it’s really not to (the players). It’s just another day and just another game. It’s another day and game to go out and have fun.”

For the town of Richmond, however, it was more than that. The close-knit community of 3,400 people felt a little closer when the Bobcats were winning game after game and championship after championship. Martin could see it, both from the town residents that watched the games and the ones who heard about them.

“You get a lot of support from the families and friends,” he said. “(We’d be) going for coffee or whatever in the morning, and someone will say ‘You know what, it was a hell of a streak.’ You don’t see that, especially in a small town like this. It’s pretty nice that some people that don’t go to the games, they know about the streak. It’s all positive.”

Nobody thought anything of it when the Bobcats started winning after falling in the 2012 state championship game. There were no streaks on anyone’s mind when Jamie Plummer capped the 2013 season by striking out 13 batters in a 3-0 state final victory over Penobscot Valley, or when Kelsie Obi’s three hits and three RBIs and a two-run triple from freshman Meranda Martin led the Bobcats to an 11-5 victory over Limestone in the 2014 final.

“We never looked that far ahead,” said Rick Coughlin, who coached the team until 2016. “We just played one game at a time, one season at a time. And it worked out very well. We had some kids that were very interested in softball, they had coaches to coach them, they played summer softball, and it made it that much easier.”

“I really don’t think that anybody paid attention to it, nor did anybody care about it,” said Meranda Martin, who has been the team’s starting pitcher since her freshman year. “That’s just not the way we are. We’re a team that likes to focus on the next game and not look at the big picture.”

By 2015, with the Bobcats on their way to another perfect season and another state title, this one coming via a 9-4 win over Stearns, it became harder and harder to stay isolated from streak talk. National high school site MaxPreps tabbed the Bobcats as the small school softball team of the year, and the practice went from ignoring the attention to having fun with it.

“(Rick) and I would joke a little about it, you know, what’s going to happen this year?” Tony Martin said. “What’s going to happen that year? What’s going to happen, we’ve got to keep it going, we’ve got to keep it going. But he and I still focused on each game, and that’s what I learned from him. To not really talk about the streak and let it be what it was, and just let the kids play.”

Martin took over for Coughlin when the latter retired after 29 seasons, and the team kept winning. Many games were blowouts, but the Bobcats survived a pair of serious threats to their run — the first coming in 2016, when Richmond scored a seventh-inning run to edge Sacopee Valley, 4-3, and the second coming this May, when Richmond scored twice in the seventh to erase a deficit and win a road game over Traip Academy, 2-1.

Meranda Martin said the team felt galvanized, rather than intimidated, by the close calls.

“Just knowing ‘Oh gosh, we’d better get some runs or we’re going to lose,’ ” she said. “Richmond people hate losing.”

In the state final, however, there was no holding off the reaper. It was against the same Penobscot team that had been the last to beat the Bobcats back in 2012, and Leandra Martin — now an assistant who saw her own career finish with a loss in that game — tried to keep any ominous feelings that were brewing to herself.

“I had thought about that going into that game. Obviously didn’t say anything to my sister,” Leandra said. “The game ended and I just told her ‘Hey, they ended the streak in 2012 for my senior year.’ … We had an awesome game, had no errors. They were just a good team.”

A good team with a great player. Leine McKechnie no-hit the Bobcats, then provided the backbreaking blow with a three-run homer off Martin during a four-run, game-deciding seventh inning.

“We just couldn’t catch up to her,” Coach Martin said. “That was one of the first games, I think, where we didn’t make solid contact.”

The ending of the epic run, didn’t do much to dampen the Richmond spirits. The Bobcats players proudly hoisted high the runner-up trophy, then gathered into the bus for the pre-planned trip for ice cream, the number 88 far from their minds.

“They didn’t even mention the streak,” Coach Martin said. “That’s just the kind of kids they are. They love to play the game, and that goes with taking each game as it comes.”

That’s not to say that they don’t know what they accomplished.

“When we lost on Saturday, we told everyone we have nothing to hang our heads over,” Meranda Martin said. “We had an 88-game winning streak. That’s incredible. Not a lot of people can say ‘I won 88 straight games in my high school career.’ ”

“We didn’t focus on it. It was something that was always there, we were proud to have it,” Tilton said. “It was huge, looking back on it now. … Now, it’s time to praise it and say ‘You know what, guys? We did good.’ ”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM