OAKLAND — Messalonskee High School softball coach Leo Bouchard expected to see some improvement from a few of his players this season. The more you play and practice, the better you get.

There’s improvement, and there’s IMPROVEMENT, which is what Bouchard has seen from the players he’s inserted into the middle of the Eagles lineup. Cleanup hitter Dakota Bragg, No. 5 hitter Hannah Duperry, and No. 6 hitter Cassidy Baker have made Messalonskee’s strong lineup that much better, and the three juniors are a big reason the Eagles took a 3-2 win in eight innings over Bangor in the Eastern Class A championship game Wednesday night. The Eagles take on Scarborough in the Class A championship game at noon Saturday at the Cony Family Field in Augusta.

After Kristy Prelgovisk led off the bottom of the eighth inning by reaching on a two-base error, it was Bragg who laid down a perfect bunt to move Prelgovisk to third. It was Duperry who hit a sharp grounder up the middle to score Prelgovisk with the game-winning run.

“It was just their time,” Bouchard said.

The thing is, their time has happened all season long.

Messalonskee’s first baseman, Bragg is hitting around .380, Bouchard said, and has a knack for getting a base hit at the time the Eagles really need one.

“She’s done it all season long. That double, that single that will bring in a run or move runners over. She dropped the bunt. She’s got no problem doing it, and she does it very well,” Bouchard said.

Bragg’s bunt to advance Prelgovisk to third base on Wednesday night was perfectly placed, right down the third base line. That Bragg was bunting in that situation was a surprise to nobody at Cony Family Field on Wednesday, and she was ready.

“We all practice bunting a lot, so when we need it, we can do it. Bunting is the most confident thing, I think,” Bragg said. “You can control where it goes, how far you push it. It was on a changeup, so it was kind of easy to place it.”

Bragg tries to bring a calm approach to her at bats.

“I just like to go up there and be completely relaxed. Take a couple swings ahead of time and watch everything. It comes in kind of slow, actually. You just have to have fun up there. That makes it work,” she said.

Added Bouchard: “She’s actually a better hitter with two strikes. She gears down harder. She reads the strike zone very well. She’s more patient with two strikes.”

Duperry, the team’s designated player, was a junior varsity player last season, and she struggled at the plate, hitting .081 for the season. Rather than become discouraged, Duperry used the season as motivation, spending a lot of time in the batting cage. Duperry’s average this season is .577.

“It was just practice. I play summer ball, and we do a lot of work throughout the winter with that team. Watch the motion, watch the ball,” Duperry said.

Bouchard said a key to Duperry improving her swing was learning how to bring her hands through the ball.

“Sometimes with kids, it’s a thousand throws, then they get it. Maybe it’s 1,200, 1,500 swings, then they get it. She got it,” Bouchard said. “Her swing is almost perfect.”

A swing in Messalonskee’s season opener at Skowhegan proved to Duperry that her hard work was worth it.

“I was really nervous because it was my first official varsity game. I sent a ball to the fence, so I was like, OK this works pretty nice. It’s starting to pay off. Then it just kept getting better. Through practice I was getting better. It motivated me to keep going,” Duperry said.

Third baseman Baker also improved with practice, practice, practice. Her batting average of .360 is around 100 points higher than last season, Bouchard said. Teammate Maddie Charest has a batting cage at her home, Baker said, and winter sessions swinging the bat there have been improvement-building.

“Every Sunday, we’ll go out there and hit. Nothing but hitting,” Baker said.

Baker’s hit in the bottom of the ninth inning provided the only run in Messalonskee’s 1-0 win over Cony on May 18.

“Cassidy made changes halfway through season, and raised her average 100 points by making those few adjustments at the plate,” Bouchard said. “She’s aggressive, loves the fastball. Runners on base, more pressure, she steps it up a little more.”

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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