BREWER — Despite the rule changes that have added more offense, high school softball is still a game where the right pitcher can carry you through the tournament. Old Town’s Kendra Hayward is that kind of pitcher right now.

Against No. 6 Nokomis in Thursday’s Eastern B final, Hayward threw strikes on an amazing 82 percent of her pitches. She finished with a five-hitter and nine strikeouts as the fifth-seeded Coyotes took a 4-1 decision at Coffin Field.

“She didn’t walk anybody, and she threw first-pitch strikes,” Nokomis coach JD McLellan said. “Her rise ball was incredible. It was just a quick-snap rise. It wasn’t overpowering, but it broke at the right time.”

Megan Perry led off the game for Nokomis, and took the first pitch low and inside for a ball. The Warriors sent 25 batters to the plate the rest of the game, and Hayward threw 25 first-pitch strikes. Altogether, she threw 75 strikes in 92 pitches, and eight of those 17 balls were on 0-2 waste pitches.

“I want to just get them swinging, and then I can throw it wherever I want it, and they can go after it,” Hayward said.

Sara Packard also pitched a five-hitter for Nokomis, but the Warriors committed four errors, leading to three unearned runs. Old Town also stole seven bases in eight attempts.

The Coyotes went up 1-0 in the bottom of the first without getting a base hit or sending the ball out of the infield. Meagan Cousins led off with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt, and dashed home on a throwing error.

Old Town made it 2-0 in the second in much the same fashion. Susie Outman walked, and pinch runner Kayle Madden stole second. Madden then went to third on a groundout and scored when Brittany Cousins beat out a bunt single.

Nokomis has been down in many of its games this season, including the Eastern B semifinal against Hermon. The Warriors trailed that game 1-0 entering the third, and went on to a 14-1 victory.

“So we said, ‘OK, we can come back,’ ” McLellan said. “But she just kept us in check. Even when we tried doing a little bit of bunting, slapping, it would pop-up because of that riser.”

As it turned out, one of the best chances for Nokomis was in the first, when Perry and Becky Orcutt both singled but were stranded on a strikeout. Hayward retired 15 of the next 16 after Orcutt’s single, and she simply never gave the Warriors anything to work with. Of the 26 Nokomis batters, 15 were behind 0-2 in the count after about 20 seconds.

Still, Packard held the Coyotes at two runs until Nokomis struck in the sixth. With two down, Drew Graves singled, and Orcutt smashed a double over the head of Cousins in left field. Graves scored to make it 2-1, but Hayward got out of the inning with a flyout.

That was the high point for Nokomis, as Old Town came back with two unearned runs in the bottom of the sixth. After an error was followed by two quick outs, Cousins singled just under the dive of Perry at second base to drive in a run. Another run scored on a two-out error to make it 4-1. Packard allowed only one earned run in the game, and finished with five strikeouts and three walks.

“She was really good,” Hayward said. “She had a great drop ball, which we really struggled hitting.”

Nokomis went down in order in the seventh, and immediately became one of the contenders for next year in Eastern B. The Warriors, who were making their first playoff appearance since 2008, lose only Perry and first baseman Becca Boyce to graduation. Nokomis finished as the Eastern B runner-up in field hockey, girls basketball, and softball during the same school year.

“We really weren’t expected to be here,” McLellan said. “The girls fought to the end. They really wanted it to the end. I’m happy with the season.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

 


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