The rest of the Wilton-Lyndeborough High School softball team may never have seen Ally Schwab move so fast.
With one out in the top of the eighth inning of a tie game against Portsmouth Christian – the team the Warriors beat in last year’s Division IV championship game – Schwab knew WLC needed a big play.
And when PCA’s Amelia Sheedy popped up a bunt attempt, Schwab was going to get it, no matter where the ball was headed.
As the ball plummeted toward the ground up against the fence in front of the Warriors’ dugout, Schwab lept out of her crouch, went full speed toward the fence and laid out to make the catch.
“I dropped the one that was right in front of me, so it was time to redeem myself,” Schwab said. “I just dove for it. Everyone makes fun of me because I’m not the fastest person, but I think that was a big part of (the win), it was a momentum change.”
Then, in the bottom of the inning, the junior catcher delivered the game-winning hit, a single to score Sara Holka from first and give the Warriors (11-2) a 5-4 win over the Eagles last Thursday.
They’re the kind of plays WLC coach Denny Claire has come to expect from Schwab, and Holka, and he told both as much before the bottom of that inning.
“I said to them, I want those two to end it,” Claire said. “They’re both extremely capable of hitting one out, or knocking each other in. They’re both clutch.”
Since 2005, no team has been more clutch, and no team has played more games at Plymouth State University – home of the semifinals and championship game – than the Warriors. In that span, only once (2011) did WLC fail to make the final four, and every other year, its been to the championship game, going 4-5 in those appearances.
That experience is priceless for the Warriors, according to Schwab.
“The atmosphere up there is so much different,” she said. “It’s so important when you go up there and you’re comfortable at the field. Some crazy stuff can happen there and being there before really helps a lot.”
Crazy stuff, like the walkoff home run that won the Warriors the 2007 title, or winning a final 1-0 in nine innings one year (2012), and then losing 19-10 the following year.
But if this year’s team has what it takes to return, Claire doesn’t quite know.
“I like this group,” he said. “I don’t know if we’re as good as last year. I can’t compare the two for the reason that we’ve got three new players out there, and they’re getting better. But I had three solid players that I lost. Two were playing the outfield for three years.”
One of those new players is someone who could be a fixture for the Warriors for some time. As a seventh-grader a year ago, Lexi Balm saw time with the varsity, and this year, she’s starting at third base, and as a lefty thrower, she’s given WLC a different option in the circle late in games other than Holka, who started last year’s championship game.
“Lexi has been spectacular this year,” Claire said. “We’ve been doing that and I like to mix them up.”
Solid pitching, clutch hitting and an improving defense could be the right combination, but the Warriors won’t know for sure until the playoffs start in two weeks on June 3.
“We started kind of slow,” Schwab said. “I think we’re starting to come together. We’re hitting more and I do think we’re one of the best teams. We don’t know what’s up North, but once we get to Plymouth, we usually seem to pull it together.”