Winslow supporters cheer on the Black Raiders after they beat Nokomis in the Class B North softball championship game Wednesday in Brewer. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WINSLOW — At this point, the Winslow High School softball team no longer considers itself an upstart underdog. The Black Raiders are happy to let you continue to think that, though.

“We just go into every game self aware. It doesn’t matter how they’re going to play. It matters how we’re going to play, and that’s pretty much the mindset we’ve had,” shortstop Jenna Libby said after Friday morning’s practice.

Despite going 4-11 in the regular season, Winslow found a groove when the playoffs began. A come-frombehind victory over Hermon in the first round of the Class B North tournament — in which the Black Raiders erased a six-run deficit in the seventh inning before winning it in the eighth — sparked a dramatic surge through the regional playoffs. No. 8 Winslow won three games over higher-seeded teams. A 10-9 win over No. 3 Nokomis earned the Black Raiders their first regional title since 2007.

“I think we just took momentum from there, and it just kept going. I don’t think there’s been a minute we’ve got down on ourselves since then,” third baseman Leah Knight said of the comeback that began the Black Raiders’ playoff run.

Winslow (8-11) will face undefeated Cape Elizabeth (21-0) in the Class B state championship at 4 p.m. Saturday at Brewer High School.

All season, the Black Raiders have seen their won-loss record as camouflage, disguising how good their team actually was.

Winslow’s Harley Pomerleau slides safely into third base as Nokomis third baseman Hope Brookes takes the throw during the Class B North championship game Wednesday in Brewer. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“Anytime you start winning games, you start feeling confidence, and that’s what they needed in this postseason. They needed the confidence to support what I already knew, what the parents already knew, what the fans already knew. Which is that they’re a really good softball team,” Winslow coach Kacey Larsen said.

The Black Raiders played one of the toughest schedules in the state. Two games against Skowhegan, the Class A North champion. Two games against Hall-Dale, the Class C South champion. Two games against a Lawrence team that won 11 games in the regular season. Two more games against a 10-win Waterville team. A game against 13-win Gardiner.

The regular season grind helped Winslow to victories over No. 1 Old Town and No. 5 Foxcroft Academy before the regional final against Nokomis.

“It helped us learn our team better and how to push through mentally,” said catcher Harley Pomerleau, whose third double of the game drove in the winning run in the top of the ninth inning in the regional championship. The losing record also may have made opponents take the Black Raiders less seriously. “It helped us, because it made people doubt us.”

As her team compiled losses in the regular season, Larsen saw more good things than bad.

“There were quite a few games, when we went to our talk out in the outfield, I would say — and the girls would agree — the score didn’t reflect how we played. We might have a bad inning, one or two bad plays where a lot of runs would score. Then you’re in this overwhelming situations where you’re down six or eight runs,” Larsen said. “It’s mental. They’ve got a good mute channel right now. They’re very good at tuning out everything that’s going on off the field. They’re not getting themselves super hyped up and getting in their own heads.

“We beat ourselves in some of those games mentally because we went into the game thinking, ‘OK, they’re such a good team. How are we going to beat such a good team?’ That’s when we adopted that, we don’t care what the other team’s stats are. We don’t care what the other team’s record is.”

Winslow baserunner Nevaeh Dupplessie advances to second base as a Nokomis infielder fields the ball during the Class B North championship game Wednesday in Brewer. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

That mental approach was key in the regional final. Winslow entered the bottom of the seventh inning with a 7-3 lead, but saw Nokomis scored four runs to tie the game. Essentially, doing what the Black Raiders had done to Hermon. When Winslow scored twice in the top of the eighth inning, the Warriors matched it with two runs in the bottom of the frame.

Winslow took the lead again in the top of the ninth when Libby scored on Pomerleau’s double to left field, and the Black Raiders retired Nokomis in order in the bottom of the inning to get the tirle. The game was a test of wills as much as it was a test of softball skills.

“If we were going to go down, we were going to go down fighting,” Knight said.

Focusing on what they can control has worked for the Black Raiders so far in the postseason. They haven’t spent too much time scouting any opponents, and that’s not going to change with Cape Elizabeth. Going in blind as it were has worked, Larsen said.

“I don’t want to know about Cape Elizabeth Obviously they got to the state championship. We know they’re going to be tough. We expect teams that are successful are going to have strong bunters and strong hitters and they’re going to have solid pitching. We prepare for all of that stuff, but we prepare for that every single game,” Larsen said.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

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