Red-hot Skippers aim for title in state softball tournament
After a superb regular season, the North Kingstown varsity softball team has started its bid for state championship. The Skippers, who finished the regular season 14-2 in league play, are carrying their big bats into the playoffs.
The squad coasted through its first two postseason games, shutting out Warwick Vets 10-0 on May 30 and then clobbering Westerly 11-2 on Sunday. The Skippers’ busy bats have a 21-2 edge in run production so far in the playoffs, the biggest differential through the first two rounds.
North Kingstown was scheduled to play Wednesday night against Coventry. Results were not available at press time, but win or lose, the Skippers are guaranteed another shot at the title because of the double-elimination format.
But to bring the trophy home, the Skippers will have to outlast Lincoln High, which is trying to complete back-to-back undefeated seasons and repeat as state champs. The Skippers finished second in Division I this year, right behind the 16-0 Lions. The two squads could meet as early as Saturday if they cruise through the next round.
The Lions are trying to extend their 40-game winning streak.
“And good for them,” Skippers coach Adam Laliberte said. However, he added, Lincoln doesn’t quite qualify as a dynasty yet.
In the past 15 years, 13 different schools have been crowned the Rhode Island softball champion – no single program has dominated, Laliberte said. Lincoln’s title last year was the school’s first. The last time that North Kingstown was in the championship game was 2002. The Skippers defeated the Lions.
Laliberte said the Skippers should definitely be contenders this year because the girls are hard working, hungry and want to keep going. “This is the best team I’ve had,” he said. “They work hard every day in practice.”
Laliberte says the Skippers are not only talented, but they have the right attitude. The girls have the physical ability, he said, and they’re focused on winning.
Standouts on this year’s team include pitcher Taylor Butler, a senior co-captain who was named to the All-Division First Team. Also winning a spot on the First Team was catcher Heather Jackson, a junior.
Senior co-captain Kristina Rodriguez, who plays center field, made the All-Division Second Team, and fellow senior co-captain Liz Finelli was named to the Third Team. She plays second base.
Finally, Devin Neary, a sophomore third baseman, was an honorable mention.
Still, some of the players were “snubbed,” Laliberte said, and probably should have been honored, including shortstop Natalie Wirth, a sophomore who was named to the All-State Second Team as a freshman last year.
During the regular season the Skippers scored the most runs (141) of any Division I squad. They amassed 97 more runs than they gave up and finished in second place out of 17 teams. A year ago, the Rhode Island Interscholastic League separated Division I into two leagues, but this year all the teams competed in the same league.
North Kingstown’s only two losses came in extra innings. East Providence handed them a defeat, despite a one-hitter by the Skippers’ pitcher. Then Lincoln beat the Skippers 3-2.
Even though the game against the Lions went into the loss column, it was one of the best the team played all year, according to Jamestown’s Faith Chadwick.
“We definitely have a chance for revenge,” she said.
Faith, 17, is the backup first baseman and the only islander on the varsity team. She started the game on senior night on May 19 against Warwick Vets and helped lift the Skippers to a 14-1 victory. She also went 3-for-3 in the Skippers’ 11-2 win over Barrington on May 24.
“She works really hard,” said Laliberte, adding she is handy with the bat and a great person to have on the team.
Unlike some sports, Jamestown doesn’t have the numbers in the softball program. Laliberte thinks its because the town doesn’t have a feeder system for girls’ softball. “We don’t typically have a Jamestown player,” he said.
Faith said her experience proves the rule and not the exception. She moved to Jamestown in fifth grade but previously lived in Johnston, where softball was a big sport. After moving to the island, she played in a recreational softball league in North Kingstown.
She likes softball because she likes being part of the team. “We’re a family,” she said.
Faith said the Skippers use a set starting lineup and typically substitute players due to injuries. Other starters include sophomore right fielder Emma Simmons, sophomore first baseman Abigail Haberle and sophomore left fielder Amy Augenstein.
Rachel Kantor, another sophomore, is a pitcher and designated hitter.
With a slew of sophomores, Laliberte said, the Skippers are still a young team with a future.
The remaining games in the tournament are being played on a neutral field at Rhode Island College.