Richmond third baseman Paige Lebel, left, leaves the glove on Buckfield runner Cassidy Lowell after she was called out on a relay throw to third base during an East-West Conference softball game earlier this seasons in Richmond. Times Record photo by Eric Maxim

RICHMOND — As if there was any left to make, the Bobcats made history Saturday afternoon. And they did it by simply setting foot on a bus.

For the first time in more than a decade, the Richmond softball team had to hit the road for a postseason game. And though it was a new experience (all rounds prior to regional finals and state championship games are played in the home digs of the higher seeds), it produced a familiar result. The third-seeded Bobcats (13-4) scored an 11-8 win over No. 2 Buckfield to earn a berth in the Class D South title game, one year after losing in the same round against those very same Bucks. For senior pitcher Caitlin Kendrick, a four-year staple of a Richmond program which owns eight state championships and an 88-game winning streak from 2013-2017, it was a welcome challenge.

She believes this incarnation of the Bobcats was better for it.

“It was different, but I think we liked it being the underdog,” Kendrick said. “They had more pressure on them. We just had to show up and play our game.”

Richmond head coach Tony Martin admits he thought this hadn’t shaped up to be the Bobcats’ year. With only three seniors in the lineup — one of them an unknown outfielder who transferred from Oceanside — and a group of kids who don’t necessarily embrace year-round softball, it bore all the markings of the dreaded “rebuilding year.” But Richmond doesn’t rebuild, or it least it hasn’t had to since winning its first of eight straight regional championships in 2010.

“They’ve all just stepped up, and it’s been a really pleasant surprise,” Martin said. “This group, they don’t play summer ball. You’ve got to catch up on all of that stuff in early April to make it work later on. It takes a little bit more time sometimes, from (teaching) being more aggressive on the bases to getting to the ball more quickly in the field. It’s all that stuff. But they’re getting there.”

The young Bobcats showed signs that they may have grown up sooner than people expected courtesy of an eight-game winning streak in the second half of the season, one in which they bludgeoned opponents into submission. Richmond outscored the opposition 152-5 over the course of that run, averaging 19 runs per game.

But that’s not when the Bobcats themselves began to believe. For them, it came much, much earlier than that.

Richmond pitcher Caitlin Kendrick delivers a pitch during a game against Temple this season in Richmond. Kendrick struck out 14 in an 8-0 victory that day. Times Record photo by Eric Maxim

Kicking off a season in which they lost three of their first five games, an opening day doubleheader sweep at the hands of Buckfield — those very same Bucks who’ve provided a regional roadblock in five of the last nine postseasons — was where the Bobcats embraced their inner Curt Schilling and thought, “Why not us?”

“We had a doubleheader over there and we stayed with them, and it was our first day outside this spring,” Martin said. “I thought, ‘Maybe we’re going to be able to stay in it.’ Then we played Sacopee and stayed with them, we beat St. Dom’s, and the wins started coming. I said to my daughter Leandra, ‘I think we could do this.’

“It all came down to where we’d be traveling (in the postseason).”

Hannah Moholland, who moved to Richmond for her senior year after roaming the outfield for Oceanside, knew all about her new school’s softball program. From the outside, it was intimidating, and she could hardly believe it when Martin told her he wanted her to be the team’s starting shortstop this season.

“I knew it was a great program and they’d had a big streak, so I wondered, ‘Can I do this?'” Moholland said. “It was a lot different than what I had been doing since my freshman year. I definitely like it here. I like it a lot better.”

That key position switch came out of necessity. Meranda Martin, Tony’s daughter, was a four-year starting pitcher for Richmond until she graduated in 2017. Last year, Sydney Underhill-Tilton was the Bobcats’ go-to choice in the circle — taking her big, middle-of-the-order stick with her when she, too, graduated in the spring.

Kendrick had pitched sparingly during 2018 and was unsure if that’s what she wanted to do game in and game out. A shortstop her whole life, she’d never imagined there would be another position capable of quenching her competitive thirst.

“I’ve grown to really like pitching. I’ve grown a huge comfort with the infield and outfield I have behind me,” said Kendrick, who likes have the ball in her hand on every play. “That’s how I prefer it.”

“Her biggest thing has been remaining focused out there. In the past, if somebody made an error or there was a bad call, she used to get really frustrated,” Martin said. “She’s moved forward and gotten a lot stronger that way. She’s throwing pretty hard, and she’s throwing well.”

The hope is that she’s throwing well enough in Tuesday’s Class D South final against Greenville (15-2) to pitch Richmond into its ninth state title appearance in the last 10 seasons on Saturday.

“We definitely have a chip on our shoulders,” Kendrick said. “We lost a huge group of seniors my sophomore year and we lost Sydney last year. After that, nobody thought we were going to be good anymore. But we are.”

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