D-III softball: Belmont, in its first title game, faces White Mountains for championship

  • Belmont junior Julianna Estremera pitches against Mascenic during the Division III semifinals on Wednesday at Plymouth State University. Belmont faces undefeated White Mountains for the championship on Saturday at 4 p.m. at PSU. Jacob Dawson / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Saturday, June 09, 2018

Bill Clary’s cellphone has been buzzing more than usual for the last few days.

The Belmont softball team reached the semifinals for the first time in over 25 years and put away No. 6 Mascenic, 6-5, in extras on Wednesday, punching its ticket to the program’s first appearance in the championship round.

The historic season has caught the attention of the program’s alumnae.

“My phone has done nothing but ring with calls and emails from ex-players,” said Clary, who will soon wrap up his eighth season coaching the Raiders. “They’re so supportive of this program and these girls right now.”

No. 7 Belmont will face No. 1 White Mountains for the Division III title on Saturday at Plymouth State University. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.

While the Raiders (15-4) will get their first look at the final stage, the setting is nothing new for White Mountains (19-0). The Spartans are making their seventh straight appearance in the title game and are 3-3 in the last six, including back-to-back titles in 2016 and 2017.

Led by pitching ace Haile Hicks, White Mountains completed its second perfect regular season in the last three years. They took only one loss last spring.

Belmont was dealt a 5-1 loss against White Mountains on May 18, their only meeting of the regular season. In that game, Jordyn Lavallee was robbed of a three-run homer when a Spartans outfielder made potentially game-saving catch at the fence in center field.

“You take that away and it’s a 5-4 game,” Clary said. “But that’s softball and that was a great play they made.”

Since then, the Raiders won back-to-back games to close the regular season and have collected three playoff wins to reach the final round. Belmont cruised past No. 10 Conant, 10-2, in the first round, and then upset previously undefeated No. 2 Campbell with a 3-0 shutout.

On Wednesday, the Raiders squandered a 5-1 lead but outlasted Mascenic in extra innings. Belmont junior Chantelle Martin singled to bring home Jordan Sargent for the game-winning run in the eighth.

Clary said it was a sign of maturity and composure by his players as they weathered Mascenic’s surge and closed the game in the extra frame.

“We’re happy that as young as we are, we didn’t go into panic mode,” he said. “Having a 5-1 lead and losing that lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, our girls were still confident they could come back. And it showed in the eighth inning when they came back and scored that run.”

Freshman pitcher Morgan Hall started against Mascenic, and junior Julianna Estremera will take the circle on Saturday.

Estremera has been Belmont’s go-to pitcher, but the steady hand of Hall helped take some pressure off her this season. Hall earned seven wins from the circle this year, while Estremera, who Clary always used against the toughest competition, was 4-3. Her three losses came against White Mountains, Berlin (16-3 record) and Bishop Brady (10-8).

Hall will be ready to go if Estremera needs support on Saturday.

“Julianna has worked hard for us this year, and Morgan had a big year for a freshman pitcher,” Clary said.

The rest of the defense has been consistent for Clary, and another clean game in the field will give the Raiders their best shot at dethroning the powerhouse Spartans.

The bats have been lively this season, as well. Belmont has averaged close to eight runs per game through 19 contests this season and was held scoreless only once (a 3-0 loss to Berlin on April 13).

“We’ve been solid with our bats through the lineup,” Clary said. “Five or six hits in the game could win this. We haven’t had a game where we’ve been under four or five hits, so that’s a plus going into the game for us.”

While the Raiders have the Belmont community and the program’s history of players behind them, Clary said he has also received words of support from other Lakes Region softball coaches.

“Teams like Gilford and Winnisquam that we play all the time, Franklin, those coaches and players have been outstanding in reaching out and wishing us luck,” he said. “Some of those teams have been there numerous times and they’re telling us to enjoy it, but at the same time they have confidence that we can go into the game and have a good game and a chance to win it.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)