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NHIAA championship Saturday previews: Young Londonderry softball team on brink of history

Jun. 7—The Londonderry High softball team, with just two seniors on the varsity roster, is one win away from the program's first-ever state championship.

Top-seeded Londonderry (19-2) will play 11th-seeded Bishop Guertin (13-8) in the NHIAA Division I final on Saturday night (7) at D&M Park in Holderness.

The game is part of a big championship Saturday that concludes the NHIAA spring sports season. The softball, baseball, boys lacrosse and boys volleyball finals are all on Saturday.

What the Lancers lack in experience they make up for with their strengths, sophomore pitcher Elisabeth Kearney said.

"We have grit," the right-hander said after her 16-strikeout two-hitter in the Lancers' 2-1 semifinal win over rival Pinkerton Academy on Tuesday. "Our mental toughness is amazing — outstanding — and we work really well together."

Londonderry won that semifinal on sophomore Vivien Belanger's two-out, walk-off single to left field at D&M Park.

Londonderry last reached a state championship game in 2010, when it fell, 2-1, to Salem. The Lancers have finished as runners-up in each of their three state final appearances (2010, 2001, 2007).

Bishop Guertin's only other state final appearance was in 2017, when it defeated Bedford, 2-1, for the Division I title. Dakota Bilodeau, the Cardinals' coach, was a senior on that team.

Londonderry beat the Cardinals, 12-0, in the regular season.

"We're in it to win it," Lancers coach Dave Johnson said. "That's been our goal from Day 1."

In Division II, top-seeded Coe-Brown (17-1) will try for the three-peat at 4:30 p.m. at D&M Park. The two-time defending champion Bears will play their rival, 2021 champ and third-seeded Oyster River (17-3), for the crown.

Coe-Brown advanced to the final behind sophomore pitcher Kylie Bieniek's no-hitter in a 4-0 semifinal win over fifth-seeded Bow. Oyster River earned a 1-0 semifinal victory over second-seeded Kingswood.

Coe-Brown defeated Oyster River, 3-2, in the regular season.

In Division III, second-seeded and undefeated Prospect Mountain (18-0) and fourth-seeded Gilford (17-2) will vie for the championship at 4:30 p.m. at D&M Park.

Division IV's top seed, Woodsville (17-1), will play No. 3 Newmarket (17-2) for the title at the same time as the Division I final (7 p.m.) on the other field at D&M Park.

Baseball

Top-seeded Pinkerton reached its third straight Division I baseball final but Astros sophomore Hunter Braiser said people don't see his team as the favorite on Saturday night (7).

Pinkerton (20-1), which won the 2022 D-I title and finished runner-up to Londonderry last spring, will play second-seeded Exeter in the final (21-1) at Delta Dental Stadium in Manchester — the last of Saturday's four state championships at the ballpark.

"We've been watching (Exeter)," Braiser said after throwing five scoreless relief innings in the Astros' 5-4, nine-inning semifinal win over Nashua North. "Everyone's saying they could be better than us, but I think we're the best team in the state and I think we're going to take this trophy home."

Exeter and the Astros did not meet in the regular season.

The Blue Hawks' only loss was an 11-1 setback at Goffstown back on April 22. Pinkerton's only loss (4-2) came at rival Londonderry on May 4.

Exeter has outscored its three playoff opponents, 18-7.

"I felt like this team deserved a chance to play for the state title — and we've earned that — and we've talked about that opportunity along the whole playoff run," Blue Hawks coach Bruce Joyce said after the team's 5-1 semifinal win over Londonderry.

In Division II, if Bow is going to win the crown, coach Ben Forbes said it needs to play like it did in its 10-2 semifinal win over top-seeded John Stark. Fourth-seeded Bow (15-5) had seven hits and 12 walks in that win.

The Falcons will play third-seeded Souhegan (14-5) at 10 a.m. at Delta Dental Stadium.

"We've got to be able to execute small ball, we have to get timely hitting, we have to pitch very well and we've got to play solid defense," Forbes said.

Souhegan punched its ticket with a 2-0 semifinal win over 10th-seeded Oyster River. The Sabers scored both their runs on a first-inning error and got a six-strikeout two-hitter from Brayden Hickman.

Bow and Souhegan have not played each other in two years.

Sabers coach Chris Metz said his focus after the semifinals was to keep his players loose.

"We are what we are," Metz said. "We'll roll up to Saturday, throw our cards on the table and see what happens."

Fourth-seeded Belmont (17-2) will play third-seeded Monadnock (18-2) for the Division III baseball title.

In Division IV's final, third-seeded Gorham (17-2) will face fourth-seeded Newmarket (16-3) at 7 p.m.

Boys lacrosse

Just consider the Division II boys lacrosse final the rubber match.

Top-seeded and unbeaten Portsmouth (19-0) and second-seeded Derryfield School (17-2) will play for the division crown for the third straight season. The game is scheduled for 5 p.m. at Stellos Stadium in Nashua.

The Cougars defeated Portsmouth, 12-11, in last year's title game. The Clippers won the 2022 final meeting, 16-10, breaking up Derryfield's run of four straight D-II championships.

"I think it's going to be a great game," Timberlane coach Ken Blazska said of the final. "You've got two very well-coached programs with a lot of firepower, lot of good defense and two good goalies."

The Clippers advanced with a 16-8 semifinal triumph over fourth-seeded Timberlane. Derryfield cruised to a 13-4 semifinal win over sixth-seeded Winnacunnet.

The Cougars' only regular-season losses were a 10-9 defeat against Portsmouth and 7-5 setback at Westwood (Mass.).

Zac Amend posted a game-high three goals alongside an assist in the Clippers' regular-season win over Derryfield. Parker Lebiedz made 19 saves for the Cougars while Portsmouth got 12 stops from Kai Paterson in that one. Lebiedz also made 17 saves and Paterson made seven in the semifinals.

"Whatever team is most disciplined at what they do, that'll be the team that will come out on top," Blazska said. "It's going to be awesome."

The Division I boys lacrosse final will feature Bishop Guertin for the 19th straight spring.

The second-seeded Cardinals (17-3), undefeated against New Hampshire competition, will try to win their fourth straight championship against top-seeded Bedford (18-1) at 5 p.m. at Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter.

Saturday will mark Bedford's first ever D-I final appearance. The Bulldogs won three straight Division II titles from 2012-14.

Both teams had no trouble making it to Saturday.

Bedford advanced with a 19-2 quarterfinal win over eighth-seeded Dover and a 15-2 semifinal victory over Pinkerton. Bishop Guertin beat seventh-seeded Concord, 14-2, in the quarterfinals and third-seeded Exeter, 12-4, in the semis.

Bishop Guertin defeated the Bulldogs, 13-12 in double overtime, on April 23.

In the Division III championship game at 5 p.m. at Bank of New Hampshire Stadium in Laconia, second-seeded Campbell (16-3) will play fifth-seeded Bow (12-4).

Campbell finished runner-up to Hopkinton in last year's final in its only previous state championship game appearance. The Cougars got revenge in this spring's semifinals, downing the Hawks, 13-4.

Bow will make its first final appearance since 2010.

ahall@unionleader.com