SACO — With seven starters returning from a team that reached the regional finals a year ago, expectations are high this spring for the Thornton Academy softball team.

And Thursday afternoon the Trojans had the look of a team that’s going to be tough to beat. Senior Olivia Howe struck out 13 and senior catcher Jenica Botting drove in three runs as Thornton Academy opened the season with a 5-3 win over Windham in bitterly cold conditions.

The Trojans took a 4-0 lead in the first three innings, then held off a last-inning rally by the Eagles, who were the home team even though the game was at Thornton. The game site was switched because of field conditions.

Windham loaded the bases twice in the bottom of the seventh but scored only once as Howe ended the game with a strikeout.

“We knew coming in we had a pretty good team with a lot of returners,” said Howe, who gave up five hits. “So we felt fairly confident. It feels good. A nice little win under the belt.”

Thornton struck quickly with a run in the first on a sacrifice fly by Hannah Collins and two more in the second on Botting’s two-run double.

“It’s been a little hard in the batting cage for a little bit,” said Botting. “During warm-ups I was hitting pretty well and I was looking forward to putting it into the game.”

Sophomore first baseman Abby Miner, a transfer from Lisbon, made it 4-0 in the third with a towering home run over the left-field fence. But Windham pitcher Whitney Wilson settled in after that, using her change-up effectively to keep the Trojans off balance.

A two-run home run by Chloe Wilcox in the fifth  brought the Eagles within 4-2. “Chloe is a catalyst,” said Windham Coach Fred Wilcox. “She’s the spark of this offense.”

Botting drove in a run with a looping single to center in the sixth to make it 5-2.

Then came the seventh. With one out, Windham’s Shyler Fielding doubled. Back-to-back infield errors loaded the bases.

Erin Elder hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Fielding and make it 5-3. Sarah Elder followed by beating out a slow roller in the infield for a single, reloading the bases. But Howe got the final out, using her change-up for a strikeout.

“Her change-up was the key the entire game,” said Botting. “It definitely caught a lot of their girls off guard.”

And the Trojans escaped with the win.

“That’s the thing, you’ve got to go out and do it,” said Thornton Academy Coach John Provost, of the high expectations. “That was a great start.”

Wilcox, Windham’s first-year coach, felt the same way.

“We’re a young team,” he said. “To see them in that situation, I think they answered pretty well. We almost made a comeback. It was a great effort.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH