STANDISH — As the old sports adage goes, defense wins championships.

Like every blanket statement there are always exceptions to the rule though, and Saturday at Bailey Field on the campus of St. Joseph’s College the Skowhegan Area High School softball team proved it’s one of them.

Now, the Indians were not by any stretch of the imagination porous defensively, nor were they devoid of quality pitching.

In its 7-3 victory over Thornton Academy in the Class A championship the Indians played error-free baseball, and Kaitlyn Therriault — who struck out just two in the win — effectively mixed her pitches to keep the Trojans off guard.

That being said, Skowhegan’s storyline Saturday — and for the entire playoffs for that matter — would not be the same had it not mashed the ball the way it did.

“We know that’s what we’re going to have to do,” Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson said. “We’re going to have to hit the ball. Our defense was up and down at times, but in the playoffs it’s actually been pretty strong.”

“People know us for our hitting. I don’t want to say scared, but I guess scared of our hitting,” added Taylor Johnson, Lee’s daughter and starting first baseman. “Our defense just helps us back it up.”

The Indians wasted little time against Thornton to deliver their message, as Mikayla Toth and Eliza Bedard led off with back to back singles before both scored on an Andrea Quirion double off the top of the fence.

Skowhegan scored four runs in the first inning on four hits and an error, part of a 12-hit onslaught waged against the Golden Trojans.

“We’re not just showing up and happy to be here,” Johnson said of the start. “We’re here to take something home.

“That was the mentality we wanted to have coming into this game. We told them, ‘look, be aggressive early in the count again, don’t sit back and be passive. You have to be the aggressor.'”

Thornton coach John Provost admitted he didn’t know too much about Skowhegan coming in, other than its reputation as a strong hitting team.

“We did know they hit well. That’s the one thing (we knew),” he said. “We were told the top five or six kids could hit and they did. They put the ball in play, they sprayed it all over the field and they put a ton of pressure on us.”

As far as the Indians were concerned though, their hitting performance was nothing new.

After a paltry seven-hit performance in their playoff-opening, 4-3 win over Edward Little — if you’re keeping track at home by the way, Calais and Madison combined for six hits in the Class C title game earlier on Saturday at Bailey Field — the Indians pounded out 13 hits in a 7-6 win over Bangor.

In the Eastern A championship game Skowhegan proceeded to record 10 hits in a 3-2 win over Cony and Arika Brochu, one of the best pitchers in the state.

Of course, you do not get 42 hits in four postseason games by accident.

It is not that Johnson and his staff do not focus on the other aspects of the game, they just put a little extra attention on hitting.

In the early stages of the season the Indians — like most teams in the state — were limited by what they could do due to ice and snow covering the fields. As it would turn out, the weather may have played a significant role in Skowhegan’s march to the title.

“Before the season started we had all that snow and all we could really do was hit,” Taylor Johnson said. “We started realizing we’re going to be a good hitting team this year and the more (the season went on) the better we got and more confident we got.”

Once the team moved to outdoor practices Lee Johnson said they would last about two hours before moving to approximately 90 minute practices during the regular season — about two-thirds of which was spent on hitting drills.

“We spend a lot of time on station work,” he said. “There’s drills we do for a certain reason where we’re trying to curb certain habits.

“We’re trying to get them lots and lots of swings in a short period of time. I’m trying to work on making sure they stay short to the ball. That’s what we’ve been doing the whole time.”

The stations each have their own names — many of which sound like they’re straight out of a Dr. Seuss book — from high tee, low tee, double tee, soccer balls, fast hitting and Happy Gilmores, among other.

They’re drills that Johnson and his staff have picked up over the years from travelling to coaching clinics in places like New Jersey and Connecticut.

“There are some of the best coaches in the country (there),” Johnson said. “If we see drills that we think will be beneficial to our kids and encourage things we’re looking for then we put them in.”

Most importantly though, Johnson’s players believe in what he’s teaching.

“They bought totally into it, they believed in it and I’m totally speechless for it,” he said. “They’re a tremendous group of kids and I couldn’t have asked for more.”

Evan Crawley—621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley


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