For the second straight season the Cheverus High softball team won its first four games.
Monday it went one better, beating host Windham, 5-3 to improve to 5-0.
Now the test really begins for the Stags, according to third-year Coach Maureen Curran.
“Last year was the strongest start in school history then we lost our momentum and fizzled out and didn’t even qualify for playoffs,” Curran said. “This year I’m really looking for this team to carry the momentum and confidence all the way through.”
Curran believes there are multiple reasons why this year’s club will fare better.
It starts with the most important holdover, senior pitcher Brittany Bell, this week’s Press Herald Girls’ Athlete of the Week. Bell has struck out 56 batters in four games and is sporting a 1.00 ERA.
Her 14-strikeout, six-hitter in a 10-1 win against Marshwood was outstanding, but she’s also twice beaten an improved McAuley squad that has shown some potent bats this season.
“She has a great off-speed pitch and great location and she’s smart,” McAuley Coach Robbie Ferrante said of Bell. “She remembers the hitters that she’s faced and knows the count and how to work. Plus, she’s a great hitter for them.”
Bell was batting .545 through the first four games.
Overall Cheverus is an inexperienced team with senior first baseman Libby DesRuisseaux the only person besides Bell returning to the same starting position. Junior Josie Bradshaw is the only returning outfielder.
But two key positions have been filled by juniors who have returned to softball for the first time since playing regularly through middle school. Catcher Margaret Rigney and shortstop Olivia Mull have stepped into the big roles and performed well.
Curran said Rigney and Bell have quickly developed a good chemistry and that Rigney “is really contributing to Brittany’s confidence.”
Another reason to think Cheverus can continue to improve is the all-star coaching staff Curran has around her. It starts with her father Tige Curran, 73, the softball coach at Deering for 32 years, including four Class A titles between 1985 and 1989.
The pitching coach is Lesley Warn, who starred at Deering and then went onto a successful career at Wheaton College. Former Westbrook standout Cynthia Wescott, who played basketball at Southern Maine and then softball at Saint Joseph’s, has been a key in helping Rigney develop her high school catching skills.
Kevin Haley, the Cheverus swim coach, is also working with the players to improve mental preparation and focus.
“I’m truly blessed to have this tremendous staff,” Maureen Curran said.
Even before McAuley beat Biddeford on Monday to improve to 3-3, the Lions had already shown improvement. Now they’ve exceeded their win total from 2013.
Ferrante said the biggest difference this year is getting his pitchers back.
A year ago both Sam Libby and Taylor Whaley went down with injuries early in the season. With little depth, McAuley had to use a starting infielder at pitcher.
This season Whaley has shown she can compete on the mound, including an impressive three-hitter in a 3-1 win against Windham last week and a 14-strikeout, one-walk gem in a 14-3 win against Westbrook.
Those wins and the fact that Western A has expanded its playoff field to 12 teams has Ferrante thinking playoffs.
“That’s what we’re shooting for,” Ferrante said. “There’s no question in my mind we’re one of the top 12 teams and I’ve got them believing that.”
The team has also gotten an infusion of talent from its freshman class.
Ally Tillotson is a first-rate catcher. A key reserve on McAuley’s Class A champion basketball team, Tillotson calls the pitches and packs plenty of power into her 5-foot-3 frame with three home runs through five games, including an over-the-fence blast at Westbrook.
• Fryeburg senior pitcher Sarah Harriman reached an impressive career mark when she recorded her 500th career strikeout last week in the Raiders’ second game of the season, a 5-2 win against Poland.
• Lake Region snapped an 18-game losing streak with an 11-2 win at Gray-New Gloucester.
After losing its first three games, Cape Elizabeth bounced back to beat York 7-4 on Friday behind the pitching of sophomore Nate Ingalls. Ingalls allowed six hits, winning a battle of left-handers with York’s Danny Bock, who went 5-1 last season as the Wildcats won the Class B state title.
All the Capers’ games thus far have been against teams expected to contend for regional titles. They opened with back-to-back losses against Yarmouth (5-1 at Yarmouth on April 17, 4-1 at home on April 28), then lost 3-1 at home against Falmouth on April 30.
– Staff Writer Tom Chard contributed to this report.