This is Sydney Underhill-Tilton’s time of year. The Richmond senior is watching softballs explode off her bat or listening to the pop they make as she windmills them into the catcher’s mitt.

As one of the best players in the state she can hardly wait for the season to begin. Those who watched Underhill-Tilton complete the recent basketball season know she can play that game, too.

As her stellar high school career winds down, she’s faced with a decision: which sport or both will she play in college. Although softball has been at the top of her list for a long time, Underhill-Tilton finds herself leaning toward basketball.

“It really depends on where I go,” she said. “I love them both but I’m leaning more towards basketball.”

Considering her recently completed season with the Bobcats, it’s not a bad choice. Underhill-Tilton averaged a shade under 17 points and 13 rebounds a game this year while leading the Bobacts to a 15-6 record a berth in the semifinal round of the Class C tournament.

For her efforts, Underhill-Tilton has been selected as the Kennebec Journal Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Also considered were Monmouth’s Tia Day and Gardiner’s Aimee Adams.

Richmond upgraded its schedule this season from primarily Class D competition to the tough Class C and B teams in the Mountain Valley Conference.

Teams in the MVC might not have known exactly what to expect from Richmond in general, but Underhill-Tilton came into the league as the player to stop for the Bobcats. As such, she was often double and triple-teamed in the post.

“I knew I had to work that much harder,” she said.

Richmond coach Mike Ladner employed an inside-out strategy that had Underhill-Tilton passing the ball back out to the perimeter once she touched it in the post. Her young teammates responded — which in turn opened shots for Underhill-Tilton — especially in the second half. Underhill-Tilton was also able to step away from the basket, which gave her freedom to create her own shots.

“She was our bread and butter on offense,” Ladner said. She’s improved very year. This year it was her shooting and she helped bring the ball up (the floor).

Underhill-Tilton made 40 percent of her three-point attempts this year, and given her size, she’ll need to play on the wing in college.

“My shot is something I tried to work on,” she said. “It was a main piece of my training.”

Ladner listed Underhill-Tilton at 5-foot-10 in the program, but said she’s closer to 5-8. Her strength and savvy around the basket allowed her to be one of the top rebounders in Class C despite giving away inches to many of her opponents.

“For someone her size it’s just heart and desire,” Ladner said.

There were only nine varsity players on the team this season, and Underhill-Tilton was the only senior. Ladner said she was more a leader by example, and the example she set was as evident in practice as it was in games.

“I was trying to work as much as I can,” Underhill-Tilton said. “Also to encourage others. I want them to have the enthusiasm I have.”

That enthusiasm rubbed off as Richmond finished 13-5 during the regular season, then beat Waynflete in a prelim game before beating Old Orchard a quarterfinal matchup. The Old Orchard win was particularly satisfying, since the Seagulls had eliminated the Bobcats from the tournament the previous year and returned most of their team.

“I think we shocked them,” Underhill-Tilton said.

The Bobcats lost to eventual state champion Monmouth in the semifinals, but pushed the Mustangs as they trailed by just two points entering the fourth quarter. Underhill-Tilton is close to several of the Monmouth players and will work out with some of them over the summer.

“I said if I’m going to go out I want to do it against Monmouth,” she said.

Underhill-Tilton is considering both the Coast Guard Academy and Maine Maritime Academy next fall. She’s been in contact with coaches, has been accepted at MMA — which doesn’t have softball — and is awaiting word from the Coast Guard Academy. This summer she’ll play both basketball and softball, while also serving as a lifeguard in Winthrop.

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