CHESTER, Vt. – Pitching and defense are often stable elements whenever a team wins a softball championship. The Green Mountain Lady Chieftain softball team has pitching and defense. They also have hitting, power hitting, and their base running stands out. People in Chester are hoping these strong characteristics click well for two more weeks in order to bring home a Vermont State Softball Championship.
In the season’s third game, West Rutland walked away with a 14-4 victory. That was the only game Green Mountain has lost. Farrell was beside himself following that contest. His pitching ace, Erika Knockenhauer, had to leave that game early with severe lower back pain. He wondered aloud if her injury would threaten what was looking like a very successful season. When she departed, he wondered if any title hopes walked out the door as well.
Good news would quickly follow. Knockenhauer returned to the mound and she managed to make it through the season. “She wasn’t all better,” Farrell tells me, but “she received medical treatment and advice which allowed her to manage the pain. She was told the injury came somehow as a result of a bad bone bruise, but I’m not really sure when that happened.”
Obviously what mattered was that the junior could pitch, and that is exactly what she did on the way to a 14-1 regular season record.
Good defensive teams are strong up the middle and the Chieftains are definitely that. Knockenhauer benefits from the presence of sophomore Maddie Wilson behind the plate. Farrell says, “We control the bases both ways. No one runs on Maddie, and we control the bases on offense. We have several players who are capable of stealing a base, going first to third, whatever is needed.” He added, “We even throw pitchouts and Maddie throws them out.”
Sticking with the strong up the middle defensive theme, senior Nicole Gignoux takes care of second and freshman Tierney O’Brien is at short. Farrell says, “O’Brien makes every play and plays small ball on offense well.” He goes on to tell me a story of Gignoux going on a field trip and her absence was felt defensively at second with the team narrowly defeating Leland and Gray 5-4.
Farrell praises Wilson and Gignoux for what they bring offensively. He goes so far with his compliments with Wilson that he calls her “the best player in the MVL (Marble Valley League). She has four home runs and is hitting almost .600.”
Of Gignoux, he mentions, “She is our number four hitter who hits line drives and is hitting near .500.”
Junior Anne Lamson completes the up the middle defense special four, manning centerfield. Farrell also notes, “She goes and gets it and is an excellent baserunner too.”
Senior Lexi White and sophomore Meekah Hance are the corner defenders in the infield at first and third while the corner outfield has freshman Alex Hutchins in left with senior Avery Prescott and freshman Anna Church sharing right field duties. Prescott is the better offensive player and Church gets the nod defensively. Hutchins hit some early but has become more consistent as the season has gone along and now hits more line drives and her average is now over .400.
The roster is filled out with junior Krysta Francoeur who actually was the starting right fielder when the season began. Injuries derailed her and another freshman outfielder Aliza Allen.
Farrell sounded most excited in our conversation when the subject of base running came up. He believes in the end, that extra bonus of this group may prove to be especially important in the post season. The coach realizes Oxbow (second seed, 10-3) “is always tough and BFA (Bellows Free Academy of Fairfax at 5th seed) is coached by Black River graduate Gina Witalec and is always tough and plays a very tough schedule of bigger schools. We have to pay attention to Leland and Gray too.” But the Rebels could host BFA in an important quarterfinal game.
Green Mountain starts their play-off road at home Friday at 4:30 p.m. against Tuesday’s winner of the Northfield at Windsor game. A win in that one would give the Lady Chieftains a home date with the Leland and Gray/Bellows Free Academy winner next Tuesday in Chester with first pitch slated for 4:30 p.m.