SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 3, 2013

Fast Pitches: Slugging Peabody finds its stride in NEC


The Salem News

---- — Fast Pitches

Gianna Addario

The Peabody softball team is off to one of its best starts in recent years. Having won their opening five games of the season, the Tanners have only two losses on the their record, to Winthrop and powerhouse Danvers. Their 7-2 record has them at the top of the Northeastern Conference Large leaderboard, just above Lynn Classical (6-2).

It’s no secret that the key to Peabody’s success has come at the plate. For one thing, the Tanners have outscored their opponents 77-24 in the first nine games of the season.

The Tanners even put an end to Classical’s 41-game unbeaten streak in Northeastern Conference play, a game in which Olivia Brothers homered twice, while Holly Smith and Mikayla Wallace also went yard.

“It’s unfathomable, I don’t know how we’ve been doing it,” head coach Butch Melanaphy said of his teams impressive hitting. “This is my 17th year here and we’ve never had this many home runs in a season. I just hope we can keep it up.”

Having gone 11-10 last season with a Division 1 first round loss to North Andover in the tournament, Peabody is a newly charged team. Even with a senior-laden roster, key positions were up for grabs at the beginning of the season, though upper-class leadership has been the backbone of the team.

Brothers has been a factor in every game. Whether its be at bat or behind the plate, she’s always looking to make the next play or out. In Wednesday’s 6-0 loss to Danvers, Brothers threw out a runner at second base on a bunt attempt. Most catchers would’ve gone to first for the easy out, but Brothers is aware of everything on the field at all times. She’s also a reliable presence behind the plate for sophomore pitcher Shelbi Wilson.

“She’s in the game,” said Melanaphy. “She knows what to do and when to do it. Olivia is a quick-thinking catcher.”

One of three senior captains, Brothers has embraced her role as one of the leaders on the team. She realizes the importance of working together and what that can do for the team as a whole.

“It’s nice to know that we can all work as a team,” said Brothers. “These past few years have been a little rough, but we’ve worked hard for this. You can’t discouraged because of one inning, so we’ve been able to talk our way through it.”

After some disappointment from the Danvers loss, the Tanners are looking to put that game behind them. They’re off today, but return to the field against Swampscott on Monday, looking to start a new win streak.

Despite the two blemishes on its record, Peabody still has the second best record in the NEC overall, behind Danvers (9-0).

“A win is a win and a loss is a loss, but we do it together and that’s been the main difference this year,” said fellow senior captain Jess Raymond. “It’s unlike any season in the past. We’re working together. We’re happy if someone gets a home run, there’s no jealous feelings.”

The sense of team unity has certainly got them this far and the Tanners are looking to keep that sense of togetherness and keep those wins coming in.

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Danvers remains undefeated after its first nine games of the season. With seven shutouts so far, the Falcons have allowed just five runs, which averages out to .56 runs per game — fewest in the Northeastern Conference.

Pitcher Kendall Meehan is one of the key reasons for the low runs against average. Meehan, who had 17 wins last year on the mound, has all nine wins this season, with eleven games left to play.

The defense behind Meehan has also been superb. From senior captain Chrissy Gikas at second base to sophomore right fielder Tori Costa, the Falcons are disciplined and poised in the field.

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First year North Shore Tech/Essex Aggie head coach Jody Norton has split up the pitching duties during games. He’s found that it’s worked out quite nicely for the Bulldogs, with a combined no-hitter last week and a combined one-hitter on Monday against Minuteman.

“We split it (the pitching) often,” said Norton. “We don’t like batters to get too many looks at the same pitcher. We have three girls to throw and it keeps them fresh and against the hitters no one gets more than two at-bats with the same pitcher.”

In Monday’s win, freshman Kaylin Countie (three innings, five strikeouts, one hit) and junior Kaera Wyse (four innings, nine strikeouts, no hits) combined for the win. The Bulldogs have done this for the past three games now and the strategy has proven to be successful for the most part.

“Those two (Countie and Wyse) combined for a no-hitter against Greater Lawrence and we used (two pitchers) against Whittier. We lost (to Whittier), but Whittier is a really good hitting team so the book is still out.” Norton said when asked about the effectiveness of the method.

Freshman Rhiannon Lane also worked her way into that rotation as the third pitcher for the Bulldogs. It keeps them fresh, yet active at the same time and doesn’t allow opponents to get too comfortable with the same hurler.

“We have three girls more than capable of throwing and we have to get them innings,” added Norton. “I think we’re on to something because when a few of the starters went the distance batters would catch up to them the second time around.”

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Fast Pitches, a column on North Shore high school softball, runs every Friday during the spring season in The Salem News. Contact Gianna Addario at GAddario@salemnews.com, 978-338-2615 and follow her on Twitter @GiannaAddarioSN.