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Dragons get off to a great start

Joshua Spaulding image
by Joshua Spaulding
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Sports Editor - Granite State News, Carroll County Independent, Meredith News, Gilford Steamer, Littleton Courier, Winnisquam Echo, Plymouth Record-Enterprise and Baysider

THE NH DRAGONS spent part of their trip to the national championships raising funds for fellow Granite State softball player Taylor McDonald. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
August 04, 2014
STRATFORD, Conn. — The New Hampshire Dragons 14U softball girls made a name for themselves before the games had even started in the 14U ASA Class A national championships in Stratford, Conn. last week.

The Dragons, coached by Barnstead's Rick Burley and featuring a number of local players, set out to honor another New Hampshire softball player.

Taylor McDonald, who plays for the New Hampshire Lightning, was recently diagnosed with leukemia and the Dragons set about doing what they could to help her out while at the tournament. Carrying a sign reading "Taylor's Team," they collected donations, bringing in more than $400 on the first day. They also had teams sign a shirt and attach pins, all of which they planned to bring back to New Hampshire for McDonald.

And oh yeah, as it turns out, the Dragons are pretty good at the softball part of the tournament too.

The girls won both of their games in pool play on Thursday, July 31, heading into the double-elimination weekend portion of the tournament with a strong start under their belts.

The Dragons opened the tournament first thing Thursday morning against the Boston Bat Busters. Barnstead's Brianna Burley got the start in the pitching circle and worked around a walk and a hit in the first inning before the Dragon bats came alive in the bottom of the first.

With one out, Barnstead's Leah Dunne beat out an infield hit and Burley drew a walk. Two wild pitches later, Dunne crossed the plate and while the Bat Buster pitcher was not paying attention, Burley's heads-up base running allowed her to score as well for a 2-0 lead.

Ali Nelson worked a walk to keep the rally going, chasing the Boston starting pitcher from the game. Jamie Cookingham followed with a long double to center field, plating Nelson and after a fly ball to left, a base hit from Nicole Gonya drove in another run for a 4-0 lead for the Dragons.

Burley pitched around an error in the top of the second, striking out two, but the Dragons went in order in the bottom of the inning. Boston rallied with two outs in the third, as a base hit, an error and two walks loaded the bases. However, Burley got a fly ball to Nelson in right field to end the inning.

The Dragons added another run in the bottom of the third. Nelson drew a walk and after a base hit by Cookingham, a base hit from Gonya made it 5-0.

Boston was able to get a run in the top of the fourth, though Cookingham was able to gun down one runner stealing to help her team get out of the inning. Olivia Langevin and Burley drew walks in the bottom of the fourth, but they were stranded. Boston had a double and a base hit in the top of the fifth but couldn't score and the Dragons added some insurance in the bottom of the inning.

With one out, Barnstead's Ali Brown drew a walk and Gonya reached on an error. Jordan Sargent's fly ball to left plated one run and a base hit from Andi Nelson drove in another run for a 7-1 lead. Burley struck out two more in the sixth before the Dragons plated one more run in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Ali Nelson beat out a base hit and base hits from Cookingham and Brown brought her around to score.

Burley then struck out the side in order in the top of the seventh to clinch the 8-1 win. The win put the Dragons into the second game of pool play against the South County (R.I.) Sea Devils later on Thursday.

This time, Andi Nelson got the start in the pitcher's circle and worked around a first inning walk. Once again the offense came up big in the first inning for the Dragons.

Langevin beat out a bunt to open the game, but she was gunned down stealing second. Dunne followed with a base hit and Burley, Ali Nelson and Gonya were all hit by pitches, forcing across the first run of the game. Brown launched a shot off the Sea Devil left fielder's glove, allowing all three runners to score for a 4-0 lead after one.

Andi Nelson worked around another walk in the top of the second and despite New Durham's Maddison Rabideau being hit by a pitch, the Dragons were unable to score a run in the inning.

The Sea Devils got their timing down in the top of the third, as a walk and three consecutive base hits plated two runs. However, the Dragons did get an out on the third hit. Brown fielded the ball in center and fired home. As the ball reached the plate, one Sea Devil runner was hung up between second and third. Cookingham fired to Gonya at second, who chased her down and threw to Madison Folcik at third for the out. Another base hit drove in another run, cutting the lead to 4-3, but the Dragons were able to answer with plenty of offense of their own, thanks in part to a little help from the Sea Devils.

With one out, Cookingham got things started with a base hit. After Gonya beat out a bunt for a hit, Brown beat out an infield hit to load the bases. Andi Nelson reached on an error to plate two runs and Rabideau reached on another error to keep the rally going. Langevin then reached on an error to drive in two more runs and a Dunne sacrifice grounder moved the runners up. Burley then doubled home two more runs for a 10-3 lead and when Ali Nelson reached on an error, Burley scored for an 11-3 lead before the inning was over.

Rabideau took over in the pitching circle in the fourth and worked around a hit, striking out two in the process. After the Dragons went in order in the bottom of the frame, Rabideau got the next three outs to secure the win, as Ali Nelson made a nice play at first and Brown made a nice play in center before a strikeout ended the game. ASA rules give teams a win if the difference is eight runs after five innings.

"We took advantage of their mistakes," Burley noted. "And everyone was heads-up on the base paths.

"We're getting runners on," the Dragons coach continued, pointing to the 19 runs in two games. "And when you get runners on it applies pressure to the other team

"We had some hits that helped lead to those mistakes," he noted.

The Dragons began the double-elimination portion of the tournament by dropping their first two games on Friday. First up they lost to the Mass Force by a 6-4 score and then fell to the Pittsburgh Pride 3-2 to end their run.

"It hurts, but everyone down here are good teams," Burley said. "My girls played hard, it just didn't happen for us."

The Dragons roster includes Olivia Langevin, Leah Dunne (Barnstead), Brianna Burley (Barnstead), Ali Nelson, Jamie Cookingham, Ali Brown (Barnstead), Nicole Gonya, Maddison Rabideau (New Durham), Maddy Folcik, Andi Nelson, Jordan Sargent (Belmont) and Mackenzie Burke (Alton).

The tournament featured 34 teams from around the eastern portion of the United States, ranging from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio to New York and New England teams.

Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or sportsgsn@salmonpress.com

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