Eagles softball looks back at outstanding season



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A 16-3 season saw the Gilford softball team reach the Final Four with an extremely young squad. File Photo. (click for larger version)
July 04, 2011
GILFORD – Expectations were tempered as the Gilford High School softball team walked into the school's gymnasium for the first day of preseason practice in March. Fresh off a 10-7 season in 2010, the Golden Eagles were faced with the task of replacing four starters lost to graduation.

"We had five returning starters so it didn't look all bad, but we really felt this season was going to be building for the future," said GHS coach Joan Forge. "And even early on in practice, we could tell we had a lot of work to do."

Forge was tasked with the problem of replacing the entire left side of her infield and outfield, with spots open at third base, shortstop, left field and center field. Throw in the fact that her team featured just one senior and one junior, and there was no question the results could've gone a number of ways.

"I knew all the sophomores we had would be better than last year but it was then a matter of could I find other people to fill the holes of the other graduates," she said.

In plugging in those recently vacated holes on the left side, the veteran coach turned to her incoming freshman class. Lisa Osborne was inserted into the third base slot with Mollie Dignan taking over at shortstop. Kelsey Buckley worked her way into the starting left field position.

"From the beginning of the season until the end, they showed a change for the better," explained Forge of her rookies. "There were some trying times but they stuck with it and helped us get to where we needed to be."

The result was a 16-3 record that saw the young Eagles reach the state semifinals, falling to Somersworth in extra innings at Plymouth State.

"This season was one of the most enjoyable seasons I've coached at Gilford," admitted Forge. "They just totally exceeded our expectations. It was a lot of fun watching the girls improve and be successful over the season."

While the year featured mostly positives, it was a loss to Winnisquam in April that seemed to spark the run to Plymouth.

"That was the turning point," explained Forge. "We were awful. We made double digit errors and it was just one of those games that was horrific all the way around. We were down 13-0 after the first inning and I think that was the first time many of them understood where I come from as a coach. I got right on them and said, 'I always tell you not to look at the scoreboard.' I really kind of laid into them and told them that if they can score 13 in an inning, so can you."

While the Eagles fell in a 23-18 shootout, the team did manage to come all the way back and force extra innings before falling.

"Everyone was so excited when tied it up," recalled Forge. "Even though we lost, it still gave the girls the sense that we can do anything. Even though it was early in the season, we turned after that."

Reaching the semifinals after the exciting walk-off win over Franklin in the quarterfinals saw the Eagles make some uncharacteristic mistakes, falling to Somersworth, 2-1.

"The girls had that deer in the headlights look going into that game and I sensed it right away in practice," Forge said. "But they needed to be at Plymouth State and we'll be better for it in the future. But softball is unpredictable, that's what makes it exciting. Just because we made the semifinals this year, doesn't mean we're going to make it next year. We aren't making any guarantees for the future but I'll say I like what this team is capable of going forward."

The sophomore core of pitcher Sydney Strout, catcher Paige Laliberte, second baseman Molly Dietrich and first baseman Abby Harris will all be back to lead the way as the Eagles prepare for another shot at the Final Four.

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