Softball: Injury-ridden Merrimack Valley’s season comes to an end with 9-2 loss to Sanborn

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 06-01-2023 9:46 AM

PENACOOK – No. 7 Merrimack Valley trailed 4-1 in the top of the fourth inning. Sanborn’s Tessa Donigian stood on third base. Brooke Hanson stood at the plate. 

On a 1-1 pitch, Hanson lined a missile off the left shin of MV pitcher Liv Lacasse. Down went the Pride’s ace pitcher, and in some sense, its season did too. Lacasse came out of the game. MV went on to lose, 9-2, to No. 10 Sanborn (9-8).

Injuries had already been a theme entering Wednesday’s Division II preliminary round matchup. Caydence Allberg, who’d been hitting about .360, suffered a broken leg a few weeks ago; on Tuesday night, Olivia Seeley – a .325 hitter – suffered a concussion. Without two of his top five hitters coming into the game and Lacasse’s in-game injury, it became too much for head coach Kevin O’Brien’s group to overcome.

Five players were forced to play different positions than usual because of the injuries. 

Still, it was another successful season for a program that’s flourished under O’Brien, the former MV athletic director who retired at the end of last school year, but decided to stick around coaching the softball team. It’s a decision he said he would’ve made 100 times out of 100. Wednesday just wasn’t their day.

Sanborn pitcher Phoebe Hood kept the Pride off balance all game. Over seven innings, she allowed just two unearned runs on three hits with one walk and 14 strikeouts.

The loss means the Pride – who entered the playoffs as the seven seed – wrap up the 2023 season at 10-7. And while Wednesday didn’t go as hoped, there’s still much to feel satisfied with. 

MV says farewell to four seniors – Lacasse, Anna Herrmann, Kalee Keyser and Emily Kelly. It’s a group that experienced quite a bit of winning over its three years playing high school softball (their freshmen seasons were wiped out by COVID-19). O’Brien estimated a record of 38-13 over that stretch, something any student-athlete would assuredly sign up for.

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“That’s the legacy they leave,” O’Brien said. “Certainly you want to go further, you want to win a state title, you want to play in the semis, but if you look back on your high school career in a three-year period of time and you went 38-13, I think you'd be pretty happy – at least you were happy 38 times.”

Wednesday was not one of those times, however. The abrupt reality that this marks the end of MV’s softball season set in as the team sat in a circle in shallow left field, baked in the sun. Players exchanged hugs, teammates helped Lacasse with her crutches, O’Brien walked in silence back toward MV’s dugout. 

Is this the end of the road for him? He’s not quite sure yet. But one thing is sure: this team, this group of players, this program will always hold a special place in his heart.

“It would've been a major mistake for me not to coach them,” he said of his choice to stick around after retiring from the AD role. “There are absolutely zero regrets. I've enjoyed every little moment, and I might continue to. We'll see.”

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