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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Campbell no underdog against White Mountains in softball finals

By GEORGE SCIONE

Roles are reversed this spring. White Mountains Regional of Whitefield may still be the top seed, but it’s third-seeded Campbell High School being targeted for revenge entering Saturday’s Division III softball final.

Last spring, Campbell players were longing for a chance to face WMR in the tournament after the Spartans eliminated the Cougars in 2012’s semifinals and went on to win the championship. Campbell, which won it all in 2011, bounced back and successfully accomplished its goal in 2013 – not only facing WMR in a tournament game, but beating the Spartans 7-5 in the final. ...

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Roles are reversed this spring. White Mountains Regional of Whitefield may still be the top seed, but it’s third-seeded Campbell High School being targeted for revenge entering Saturday’s Division III softball final.

Last spring, Campbell players were longing for a chance to face WMR in the tournament after the Spartans eliminated the Cougars in 2012’s semifinals and went on to win the championship. Campbell, which won it all in 2011, bounced back and successfully accomplished its goal in 2013 – not only facing WMR in a tournament game, but beating the Spartans 7-5 in the final.

Saturday’s 4 p.m. final at Plymouth State University offers the Spartans (19-0) their chance for payback against the Cougars (16-3).

Campbell’s Brittany McNulla and Emily Paquin aren’t interested in letting that happen. The Cougars seniors would much rather win their third title in four years.

“This is awesome,” McNulla said. “This is mine and Emily’s third time there. So it’s not really a nervous thing for us, as much as it is making sure we’re all prepared and ready to just go back to the finals again, and to keep playing our game.”

The Cougars’ game has been one of strong pitching and clutch hitting.

“We’ve really been putting it all together at the right time,” Paquin said. “This is special for me and I know for Britt too. It’s special for all of us, but this is our last chance. We’ve been a part of the final four every season, and now in the championship game for a third time. We’re happy to get back there. We have two titles, a third wouldn’t be too bad.”

Coming off a first-round bye, Campbell opened the tournament with a 15-0 second-round win over No. 14 Monadnock. McNulla and Paquin were 2 for 2 at the plate, with McNulla recording three RBIs on a double and triple to go along with Paquin’s RBI double. Sophomore Olivia Martinage earned the mercy rule-shortened win in the circle, allowing just one hit, one walk, and striking out four in the five-inning game.

The Cougars followed that up with a 5-1 quarterfinal win over No. 11 Prospect Mountain of Alton on Monday. Paquin took her place in the circle against the Timberwolves and sat them down one after another - striking out 12, walking two and allowing one run on three hits. Junior Hannah Neild, who was 2 for 3 with an RBI against Monadnock, paced the offense going 3 for 4 with a run scored and RBI in the win.

That win sent Campbell back to the final four, Paquin and McNulla’s fourth straight, where the Cougars ended No. 2 Conant’s perfect season Wednesday. The once undefeated Orioles, who had beaten Campbell twice by one run in the regular season, had no chance in the semifinals as the Cougars scored runs in all but the first inning off Orioles pitching on their way to a 14-5 win and a rematch with WMR.

It will once again be a tough task to get overcome the undefeated Spartans, who are led by senior pitcher/first baseman Erika Millett.

The Gatorade New Hampshire Softball Player of the Year owned a 13-0 record, 1.35 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 81 innings pitched through 16 regular-season games. A two-time First Team All-State selection, she also batted .475 with a home run, eight RBIs and a .522 on-base percentage.

Not much has changed since the tournament started. Coming off its first-round bye, WMR blanked No. 16 Belmont 9-0 in Round 2, topped No. 8 Newport 8-1 in the quarterfinals, and shutout No. 4 Pelham 7-0 in Wednesday’s late semifinal at PSU.

Campbell coach Joe Raycraft understands that it won’t be easy against the Millett led Spartans, but he also realizes the special opportunity his two seniors now have.

“We’re in a title game,” Raycraft said. “That’s never easy. It’s not easy to get there, and it’s not easy to win it. I’m just excited and happy for all these girls. Everything they’ve put into this season. We have one more to go. We’re happy to be coming back up here to Plymouth. That means we’re in another final.

“For Brittany and Emily that means they’ve been in the final four every year since they were freshmen. It means a chance to graduate from high school as three-time champions. That’s something special. Those two girls are something special. I know every one of these girls is going to give everything they have Saturday. That’s all I can ask of them as a coach.”