As many athletic careers have started, Layne Audet’s foray into pitching arrived quite by chance.

In happened when the soon-to-be Winthrop High School senior was in the fourth grade.

“They just needed someone to pitch,” Audet said. “They threw me in there and I loved it.”

Audet’s love of pitching blossomed into a passion, one she works on year-round in addition to playing field hockey and basketball.

“I watched Layne in the eighth grade and I knew she was going to be something special,” Winthrop coach Chuck Gurney said. “Each year she’s gotten better.”

As Audet has improved, so has the team, going from 5-11 her freshman year to 14-6 last season and 13-5 this year. For her efforts, Audet has been chosen Kennebec Journal Softball Player of the Year.

This season was her best so far. As in the past, she pitched every game, striking out 119 batters in 97 innings while walking 15 (two of those intentional) and posting an earned run average of 1.69. In addition to her ability, Gurney said Audet’s even demeanor on the mound is one of her strengths.

“An umpire told me ‘I would never play poker against her,'” Gurney said. “‘You can’t tell if she’s holding a pair of aces of a pair of 2s'”.

Audet credits her dad, David, with encouraging her to pitch and spending hours catching her on their front lawn. And long-time pitching coach Chris Hillier has helped her hone her skills.

“She’s taught me so many things,’ Audet said. “I couldn’t have done it without her.”

One of the goals Hillier and Audet aimed for this season was to reach 55 mph with her fastball and 35 mph with her changeup. She attained the fastball goal, while her changeup is hovering about 40 mph.

This summer Audet is playing for the Maine Illusion, a collection of area stars coached by Gurney and her father. The team has lined up some tournaments against some of the best 18-U teams in New England. Audet still participates in weekly summer field hockey and basketball practices and games since she is a key member of both teams, this while also working for her dad’s construction company.

“Basketball and field hockey are very important to me,” she said. “I do all three in the summer but on weekends I can only go to softball.”

Gurney and Audet differ slightly on her best performances of the season. Gurney said she pitched her best in a pair of early season losses, 1-0 to Madison and 2-1 to Oak Hill. Madison — which went unbeaten and captured the Class C state championship — scored its lone run on a passed ball. Oak Hill squeezed across a pair of unearned runs in the final inning.

“Layne is a big-game pitcher,” he said.

For Audet, though, there’s no doubt in her mind about her best game of the season.

“My best game ever was when we played Monmouth in the first round (of the playoffs),” she said.

Audet struck out a record 14 batters in that game to advance the Ramblers to the semifinal round.

The schools are only a few miles apart, and have developed a friendly rivalry over the years. In fact, several Monmouth players play for the Maine Illusion. Winthrop achieved its breakthrough against the Mustangs a year ago with a win in the semifinals of the tournament.

“We wanted to beat them so bad,” Audet said.

Next up for the Ramblers is Madison, a team that knocked off the Ramblers in the playoffs the past two season and has long dominated teams in the Mountain Valley Conference.

“They are the ones to beat, for sure,” Audet said.

Led by a solid senior class that has played together for three years, the Ramblers will return every starter next season, and Gurney is cautiously optimistic.

“Last year we got over the hump of beating Monmouth,” he said. “Madison is next. Little by little we’re getting there.”

Audet was also one of the team’s top hitters, batting .372 with 17 RBIs and just three strikeouts in 56 at bats.

“She’s a line drive hitter when things are going well,” Gurney said

With just one pitcher on his team, Gurney doesn’t take any chances with Audet getting hurt on the bases.

“We always use a courtesy runner,” he said.

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