Fryeburg girls' tennis ends the season 2-4

By Lloyd Jones

FRYEBURG — Fryeburg Academy girls' tennis team key this season has been each player's heart.

The Raiders finished the season with a record of 2-4, losing their final two matches of the season in a doubleheader to Kents Hill on Monday by identical 4-1 scorelines.

Emily Grzyb was the only Fryeburg player who won her singles matches at No. 2 both times.

"We played the two best teams the towards the end of the season and it was a good experience and challenge that they looked forward to facing," Chris Chaffee, Raiders' head coach, said. "Obviously we would have liked to won but the girls did their best and that is all I can ask of them."

Coach Chaffee talked about the heart his squad displayed this sponge.

"They all had a lot of heart," he said. "Every player on the team had great team sportsmanship to each other and to their opponents. They also had a positive and winning attitudes. I think the girls learned what it really means to persevere. No matter how many times they fell they learned to pick themselves up and find the will to keep going. That is an important thing in life is to learn you are going to make mistakes and you are going to lose but it's about the struggle. In struggle it reveals your character to either quit or to keep moving forward. You are stronger when you can get up learn and keep fighting and grinding.

"By having the vision of not giving up and by showing that your best effort is what defines you," he continued. "The girls have dedication and spirit because they remained positive and eager to come to practice and to come to every match with the mentality of believing they have the will to improve and are going to prepare well. As a coach those qualities are what makes winners and it is the qualities I have always believed in."

 

Tennis Eagles lost a lot of close matches

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — It was a season of near misses for the Kennett High boys' tennis team. The Eagles lost four 5-4 matches this season. Had the ball bounced Kennett's way in those contests, the boys would have easily made the Division II playoffs. That's what makes the 4-10 record a little misleading.

The Eagles, who finished 13th overall (only the top eight teams make the playoffs), won their final match of the season when they topped Manchester West 6-3 on May 18.

"It was a good season," said Joe Murphy, Eagles' head coach. "It's already weird that we are no long playing. It's hard to believe it's over. The last two weeks were pretty hectic (eight matches in 18 days). At one point we had a three-match winning streak and were at 3-5. I thought we might have gone on a little run, but it didn't happen. We lost a tough 5-4 match against Berlin (on May 9) and then ran into Portsmouth (13-1) and Coe-Brown (11-3), who are really good."

In the final match against West (2-12), Kennett won four of the six singles to take a commanding early lead.

Kyler Phillips lost 8-3; Zach Bradley lost 8-3; Willie Alber won 8-5; Jack Thompson won 8-1; Alex Nemeth won 8-5; and John DeVitto won 8-3.

"Willie finished with a winning record in singles," Murphy said. "He went 8-6. Jack also had a winning record, going 7-4. We have those two and Alex back next season. Alex really turned it on at the end of the year. I think he figured out his strategy and really grew a lot."

In doubles, Phillips/Bradley lost 8-5; Nemeth/Alber won 9-8 (7-4 in a tiebreak); and DeVitto/Nick Heysler won 8-3.

"Nick went 3-3 as a freshman and got some good experience," Murphy said. "He and John were actually a pretty good doubles team."

Kennett lost 5-4 matches to Kingswood, Berlin, Pembroke and Plymouth this season.

"Those were all matches we could have won," Murphy said. "Plymouth also beat us 6-3 earlier in the season. If we win those five, we end up 9-5 and finish sixth. The boys tried hard all season, and the thing that really pleased me was they kept a positive attitude."

Murphy would like the NHIAA to consider expanding the playoff field from eight to 12 teams with the top four schools getting first round byes. There are 17 teams in Division II.

"Twelve teams with a bye for the top four would be nice," he said. "I'm sure no one is looking forward to playing Portsmouth, Lebanon and Oyster River. They are all that much better than everyone else right now."

The Eagles will lose seniors Zach Bradley, Kyler Phillips and John DeVitto to graduation.

"I think we have some guys coming back who are pretty hungry for some success," Murphy said. "Nick Heysler and Colby Couture hopefully can step into the top six."

 

Raiders are ready to roll in the postseason

By Lloyd Jones

FRYEBURG — The less stress the better — that's how the 2016 Fryeburg Academy softball team rolls.

The Raiders (10-5) have secured a playoff berth with one game left in the regular season. FA is scheduled to close the book on this chapter of the spring with a trip to Naples to play Lake Region (2-13) on Wednesday at 4 p.m.

If the current rankings hold true, Fryeburg will host a preliminary round playoff game on Tuesday, June 7, at 4 p.m.

Right now there are six or seven teams with five loses or less," said Chris Dutton, Raiders' assistant coach. "Twelve teams get into the tournament. I would imagine we'll be hosting a preliminary game."

Fryeburg went 1-1 last week, falling 3-2 at Gray (9-5) on Wednesday, and rebounding 24 hours later to top Old Orchard Beach 6-1 at home.

"We didn't hit the way we're capable," Dutton said. "At Gray, we really didn't do anything offensively until the sixth inning."

Mackenzie Buzzell jump started the Fryeburg offense when she homered to kick-off the sixth inning. Julia Quinn singled and later scored on a base hit by Nicole Bennett to put the girls from Fryeburg up 2-0.

The Patriots came right back in their half of the inning to score two unearned runs by taking advantage of pair of errors by the Raiders.

"The errors were both physical and mental," Dutton said.

Gray won the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on a bloop hit.

Bennett went the distance on the mound for the Raiders allowing one earned run on seven hits while striking out five and not walking anyone.

"Nicole pitched awesome," Dutton said. "Teams are having a hard time driving the ball against her. She hasn't been getting a lot of strikeouts, but the way she's been hitting her locations, she's really done well."

The Raiders were back to full strength on Thursday when talented freshman shortstop Kristina Leblanc returned to the lineup after a brief disabled list stint.

"Getting Tina back allows Julia to move back to second, that's a real plus for us defensively," Dutton said.

Prior to Thursday's game the Raiders honored their four seniors — Alexis L'Heureux-Carland, Megan Fuller, Faith Pelkie and Julia Quinn — for their dedication and commitment to the program.

Fyeburg actually fell behind to the Seagulls (0-16), when the visitors scored a run in the top of the second inning.

The Raiders took the lead for good in the bottom of the third inning when they scored three runs. Buzzell had an infield hit that led to her standing on third base before another pitch was thrown.

"Mackenzie overran first base on purpose," Dutton explained. "It's something we've been working on. She took the turn and kept going to second, and Old Orchard overthrew second base allowing Mackenzie to get to third. I think this woke up the tram a little bit."

Bennett, who tossed a two-hit gem, helped her own cause when she belted a two-run double to make it 3-1.

The Raiders added three insurance runs in the bottom of the fourth to pull away. Buzzell had a two-run double and Alexis L'Heureux-Carland added an RBI single.

Coach Fred Apt sees the postseason as wide open this year. He believes the Raiders can contend for the crown.

"The hard thing with this team is the more laid back the girls are and the less stress, the better they seem to perform," he said. "When we're together there is no one better. Other than Greely we haven't given up three runs to anyone."

"We're getting to the point where we have to just go out and play the best we can," he added. "With the playoffs, it's what you do on that day. There's no waiting until tomorrow. If you don't do it that day, it's over."

 

Eagles finish season; McAllister looks to the future

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — If you had told Josh McAllister at the start of the season the Kennett High baseball team would post a team ERA of 3.50, he would have smiled and thought for sure the Eagles would be a playoff team this spring. Instead, the Kennett bats were cold for most of the season and the hometown nine finished with an identical 3-13 record to the 2015 squad.

"We even beat the same three teams once just like last year," McAllister said Friday after KHS closed the book on the season. "We just played better games. In seven of our 13 losses we lost by three runs or less. Last year we got 10-run ruled six or seven times.

"We were 3-5 halfway through the season, so that would translate theoretically to 6-10 overall, but we just never got the bats going. I think when you're losing so long that creates a hump that we have to find a way to get over. We were a young team in a lot of ways. We made a lot of mistakes that losing teams make that winning teams don't."

The Eagles gave up 40 fewer runs than last year, but offensively the team batting average was just .225.

"We know we've got to hit better," McAllister said. "We struck out 40-50 times less than last year, but even though we put the ball in play, we hit a lot of soft ground balls. If you don't hit, you don't score many runs, and that was our season. I know we were a better team this season than last year although the records won't show it."

McAllister sees the pitching staff as an area the Eagles can build off.

"We got really good pitching, played below-average defense and didn't hit," he said. "The good news is we didn't throw a single inning with a senior."

Sophomore Jame Goff led the staff with an ERA of 1.92 over 50 innings pitched this spring. He walked just 12 batters.

"That's how good Jame was this year," McAllister said. "Aaron Lamar lowered his ERA by more than a run over last year and Alex Ricker was a great addition. With those three coming back and being a year stronger, I feel very excited about our pitching."

With the 3.50 ERA, the Eagles also gave up 26 unearned runs, a figure McAllister admits has got to come down significantly.

Kennett dropped its last eight games of the season, including two last week on the road, falling 5-3 at Merrimack Valley on Wednesday and 4-2 at White Mountains Regional in Whitefield on Thursday.

"We had runners on base the whole game against MV," McAllister said. "We were just a hit away (from breaking things open), but we never got it."

McAllister said one of the highlights of the game came behind the plate with senior Adam Martinese throwing out three Pride base runners attempting to steal second base.

"He had by almost 11 feet," he said. "Adam threw out 11 of the last 11 who tried to steal on us. He shut down other teams' running games. I've never seen a kid able to manhandle the running game like he did."

KHS ran into solid pitching against White Mountains.

"They have two very good freshmen pitchers," McAllister said. "They threw most of (the team's) innings this season. I think over the next two or three years White Mountains ought to be one of the best teams in Division III."

Thursday's contest marked the end of the recent rivalry between Kennett and White Mountains. The two schools are not scheduled to play each other over the next two years.

"We're going to play 18 games next year (up from 16 the past four years; prior to that KHS historically played 20 games during the regular season), playing 16 against Division II schools and then two games with Berlin (of Division III). Our schedule is going to look a lot different next year. We'll play Portsmouth twice. Bow is moving up from Division III, and I think we're going to play Lebanon or Hanover, plus two with Pembroke. I'm OK with playing Portsmouth twice. It was a three-run game going into the fifth inning with them this year. I believe that in order to be the best, you've got to beat the best."

The Eagles will lose four seniors to graduation in Martinese, Nate Emerson, Axel Olson and Nate Mathieu.

"We had the year-end meeting on Thursday with the guys who are coming back next year," McAllister said. "It went great. It rejuvenated me and has me already excited about next year."

 

No playoffs for KHS softball for the first time in 29 years

By Lloyd Jones

CONWAY — For the first time in 29 years the Kennett High softball team will be spectators when the Division II playoffs begin on Wednesday. It's uncharted ground for Coach Peter Ames, who has always had a team playing in June until now.

Ames, who has been at the helm of the softball program for the past 29 seasons, believes his troops were talented enough to make the postseason. The Eagles actually controlled their own destiny going into the final week of the regular season but lost both games last week. This allowed St. Thomas, which won three of its final games, to clinch the 16th and final playoff spot.

"You've got to tip your cap to St. Thomas," Ames said. "We both had an opportunity to make the tournament and they took advantage of their opportunity and we didn't."

The Eagles lost 3-1 at Merrimack Valley (8-8) on Tuesday. The following day in Whitefield, the girls from Conway fell 5-3 to White Mountains (16-0).

"We played OK," Ames said. "Sort of well enough not to win. Those games were kind of a microcosm of the season. We played well in most of the games, but, in some, there always seemed to be one inning where we went to pieces. In the other games, there would be the inning where we couldn't come up with the hit when we needed it or we'd make a mistake.

"We didn't make a lot of errors, but the errors we made were always costly," he continued. "In all honestly, I don't think winning was a priority, and that's going to change. You generally have fun when you win. We have to put in the work to get the point where we can win."

Ironically every team the Eagles played this season made the playoffs in either Division II or III.

"When you look back on our year, we lost four games by a run (and three by two runs)," Ames said. "Those were games we were certainly capable of winning. We didn't make the plays we needed to in order to be a winning team."

Ames admits it was a frustrating season.

"The kids certainly played hard, but it was more a matter of working individually to get better," he said. "All season I offered for the kids to come and take extra hitting or ground balls and I had just three all year, and that was like for once each. That's the first time that's ever happened. We've always had kids who wanted to get better and were willing to put in the time to make themselves better.

"We certainly had opportunities to win some games, but we didn't win the games we needed to to get in," Ames continued. "We had decent pitching all year. The last four or five games we had great pitching, but we didn't hit enough, and when you don't, it puts pressure on you to make every play, but we didn't."

The Eagles lose six seniors — Victoria Burns, Rowan Grieb, Maddie Grzesik, Jess Hodgkins, Caroline Jaeger and Kate McPherson — to graduation next month.

"Potentially we have some very good players," Ames said, looking ahead to the future, "but they've got to be willing to push themselves to get there. Lots of kids are OK and are satisfied with being OK and having fun, but being OK and having fun is for when you're at the beach. I want to see the players on our team reach their potential. I can tell you it's a lot of fun when you're winning."