High school softball

Viking clans collide as hosts defend home turf against island invaders

Keach's pitching, timely hitting, runs push No. 4 Searsport past No. 5 Vinalhaven-North Haven
By Ken Waltz | Jun 08, 2018
Photo by: Ken Waltz Searsport's Makenna Woodward, right, looks to bunt while Vinalhaven-North Haven catcher Hope Cluff awaits the ball on June 7 in a high school softball game. Host Searsport edged the islanders 4-2 in a battle of Vikings in a Class D South quarterfinal playoff game.

Searsport — When two Viking clans clash over diamond spoils, surely there is bound to be moments of disappointment, excitement, apprehension, relief and, finally, celebration for the victors.

Those things certainly played out on Thursday afternoon, June 7, with the ultimate prize for the survivor not more land or people to rule, but an opportunity to advance in the Class D South high school softball tournament.

The No. 4 Searsport Vikings (9-9) and No. 5 Vinalhaven-North Haven Vikings (7-6) proved they were well-matched and their battle for diamond supremacy might have gone either way, but it was the hosts who walked off with a 4-2 quarterfinal playoff win.

Watch video, and see more photos, below.

With the victory, Searsport, which last won a playoff game four years ago when they advanced to the regional finals, earned the right to play at No. 1 Greenville (16-1) in the semifinals, losing 10-6 on Saturday, June 9.

The Viking squads did not meet during the regular season. However, Greenville downed Searsport in both ends of a regular-season doubleheader — 8-3 and 13-1.

As with most Nos. 4-5 playoff battles, Thursday's encounter held plenty of intensity, drama and intrigue. The visitors led early and hosts late before Searsport prevailed by two runs.

In breezy, but warm conditions, the opponents fought hard to take and keep the upper hand.

Vinalhaven-North Haven employed an interesting — and effective — early strategy of not starting hard-throwing pitcher Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes, but have her — and tremendous athleticism — roam the outfield for better overall defense. That strategy played dividends early as Davis-Oakes made several stellar plays, including one standout sliding catch.

In fact, with the slower-throwing Ashlyn Littlefield at work in the circle, the islanders used solid defense to grab an early lead. However, behind the strong, sometimes dominant, pitching of Jenna Keach, patience at the plate and aggressive base running, the hosts eventually prevailed.

"It is definitely huge," Keach said of the playoff victory. "This is the farthest we have gotten over the past few years. For me being out in the circle it is a big job because you always have the ball and everyone depends on you. It is a lot to handle but it is a lot of fun. Everyone loves [softball]. It is a great time. I had a really good season. It has been a lot of fun."

Vinalhaven-North Haven scored one run in the first and fourth innings, while Searsport countered with one in the second and fourth and two in the fifth.

Keach was solid in the pitching circle, as she allowed five hits, two walks and struck out 13. Littlefield pitched the first five innings, as she allowed eight hits, walked one, hit a batter and struck out one. Davis-Oakes pitched the sixth, when she walked one and struck out two.

Offensively for the winners, who came out with plenty of spirit (game-long cheers and faces painted, for example), Abby Stemp (steal), Ashton Wells (single, 2 steals), Makenzie Alley (single, 2 steals, run), Keach (single, run), Makenna Woodward (2 singles, 2 steals), Arianna Stemp (single, 2 steals, 2 runs), Madison Young (single) and Mikaela Alley (double) led the charge.

Arianna Stemp, Woodward and Audrey Walker are seniors, who played Thursday's game a few hours before their graduation that night.

For the islanders, Déja Doughty (single, steal, run), Davis-Oakes (single, steal), Littlefield (single), Bickford (single, run) and Hope Cluff (single) proved keys. Cluff, interestingly, is an eighth-grader and knocked in a run.

"Everything pretty much had to be perfect," said Vinalhaven-North Haven coach Doug Littlefield, adding that Nos. 4-5 playoff matchups often are close affairs, as Thursday's game. "We made all the plays in the outfield, Ashlyn pitched a good game. We had a couple of mistakes.They are really fast base runners. They are a good school and a good team. It could have gone either way."

The coach said he felt the islanders had a strong season and the opponents they lost to were, ultimately, ranked higher in the final standings. "We have had a good run," coach Littlefield said.

Davis-Oakes, one of the islanders' senior three-sport stalwarts, said, "I think I needed this game because this game, especially this being a playoff game and a close game, it really helped me gain a little bit more love for the sport. I felt having Ashlyn pitch, knowing she is hittable, knowing there is going to be a lot of balls in the field, it is my job to make the plays. She is pitching so I can clean it up. I was out in the outfield for that reason. With my competitive spirit, I'm obviously going to try my hardest anyway, and knowing it is a playoff game and a close game, I had to try that much harder."

Davis-Oakes said she just tried to make a play on any ball that came to her, including a sweet diving play in the middle of the game. "I looked at my center fielder (Doughty) and said, 'I'm shocked,' " about catching the ball.

Davis-Oakes said while she usually pitches, she enjoys playing the field and the team, overall, often plays better defense when Ashlyn Littlefield works in the pitching circle.

In front of a large crowd of on-lookers, the visitors grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning as Doughty walked and moved to third on a single to center by Davis-Oakes. Doughty scored on a passed ball.

Searsport stranded two runners in the bottom of the opening frame, and, after Stemp struck out the side in the top of the second, the hosts tied the score in the bottom of the stanza. Arianna Stemp singled with one out and eventually scampered around the bases.

Doughty (hit) and Davis-Oakes (walk) were stranded on the bases in the third inning, before the visitors took a 2-1 advantage in the fourth as Bickford led with a single to center field and eventually scored on Cluff's infield hit down the first-base line.

Searsport tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the frame as Arianna Stemp walked and scored on Mikaela Alley's ringing double down the left-field line.

Keach kept the islanders at bay in the fifth frame before Searsport took a 4-2 advantage in the bottom of the stanza. With one out, Makenzie Alley singled and aggressive base running, coupled with an error, enabled her and Keach to cross the plate in the inning.

Keach retired six of the final batters she faced, with only Doughty, who reached base three times, ripped a one-out single in the seventh. Davis-Oakes represented the tying run, but grounded out to third.

Davis-Oakes said being the final person to bat for her team in Thursday's playoff game was fine and she relishes those moments in the spotlight because she does not let the pressure bother her as a pitcher or batter. In this case, however, she just happened to ground out to end the contest.

Keach said Searsport players and coach have a lot of spirit and love for softball and the players like to cheer, shout encouragement to one another, wear face paint and even color their nails to keep the spirit high.

"We always used to get pumped up in the fifth inning, which was always a little late for us, so we have started to say be pumped up for the entire game," Keach said. "Have a lot of spirit because it really helps us out because we get to have so much fun and keeps everyone up."

She said if someone gets upset about an error or strikeout, they do not stay that way long because the rest of the players bring up her spirit to keep the motivation and teamwork high.

Searsport coach Christin Chase, in her third season as coach (she also is Keach's sister), said, "It was a good game. They tried to mix us up having a slower pitcher in there [Ashlyn Littlefield rather than Davis-Oakes]," which led to pop-ups. After Chase told the players to meet the ball in the middle and hit line drives, as well as play small ball by bunting when necessary, things worked out for the hosts.

"They did everything that they needed to do and I can't ask anything else of them," Chase said.

Thursday's game also marked the final high school athletic event for seven island seniors, six of whom were members of a four-year basketball dynasty, which included two trips to the state final and the school's first gold ball.

Those seniors were Davis-Oakes, Littlefield, Amber Shane, Paige Dennison, Bickford and Doughty. Classmate Carolyn Hopkins also was a key member of the softball team.

All or most of those student-athletes helped the island soccer, softball and basketball programs experience remarkably consistent success for four years.

"It has been fun watching them," coach Littlefield said. "We are going to have to try to find it again in the lower grades. These seven girls have done really well. They play well together and it is a good group. It is going to be hard to see them go [as a parent and coach]. They have to move on eventually. These girls were all just playing Little League and now they are all graduating from high school."

Now the island Vikings must reload — while the mainland Vikings live to fight another day.

"I think with a good rest we will be on our game and the girls are ready," coach Chase said of the upcoming semifinal playoff clash with talented, top-ranked Greenville.

Vinalhaven-North Haven at Searsport softball
Searsport hosts Vinalhaven-North Haven on June 7 in high school softball. (Video by: Ken Waltz and Holly Vanorse Spicer)
From left, Searsport's Emma Spiegel, Sarah Gent, Jenna Keach, Makenzie Alley and Casey Snow. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport players line up during pregame introductions. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport players line up, and give high-fives, before the game. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven players line up during pregame introductions. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport players, with Jenna Keach in the middle, come together for a pregame chant. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Madison Young. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Mikaela Alley. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Makenzie Alley. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Déja Doughty. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Paige Dennison, right, and Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes, right, and Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Déja Doughty, right, and Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes, back, along with Searsport's Makenna Woodward. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Ashlyn Littlefield, right, and Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes, front, and Searsport's Arianna Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Marina Davis. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Gilleyanne Davis-Oakes. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, left, and Searsport's Ashten Wells. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, left, and Searsport's Makenzie Alley. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Amber Shane, left, and Searsport's Jenna Keach. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, right, and Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, right, and Searsport's Makenna Woodward. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Carolyn Hopkins, right, and Searsport's Arianna Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Carolyn Hopkins, right, and Searsport's Arianna Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, left, and Searsport's Madison Young. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Jenna Keach. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Jenna Keach. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Ashlyn Littlefield. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Ashlyn Littlefield. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Ashlyn Littlefield. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Ashlyn Littlefield. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Marina Davis. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Makenna Woodward. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, right, and Sandy Nelson, athletic director/assistant coach. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Audrey Walker. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Audrey Walker. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Déja Doughty in the outfield — with Searsport students/fans on the bleachers behind her. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Mikaela Alley, front, and her teammates in the dugout. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Carolyn Hopkins. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Casey Snow. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Jenna Keach, left, and coach Christin Chase. The two are sisters. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Ashten Wells. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Ashten Wells. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven coach Doug Littlefield, right, and Ashlyn Littlefield, his daughter. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Vinalhaven-North Haven's Hope Cluff, left, and Searsport's Ashten Wells. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
Searsport's Abby Stemp. (Photo by: Ken Waltz)
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Ken Waltz
Sports Director
594-4401, extension 114
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Ken Waltz has been a media member 35 years and has received hundreds of Maine Press Association and New England Press Association awards for his writing, photography and page design. He has an associate degree in law enforcement and studied journalism at the University of Maine in Orono. He lives in South Thomaston with his wife, Sarah. The couple has an adult son, Brandon, who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Hannah, and daughter, Audrey Josephine. Ken loves to golf, ride his motorcycle, exercise at the YMCA and follow his beloved Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics and Bruins. He also has had a lifelong passion for the mysterious and all things paranormal/cryptozoological.

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