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Spring in bloom

High school athletes bask in early start to spring season

by Jeff Lajoie
Sports Reporter

Belmont senior Ian Shaw takes a hack at a pitch during batting practice held at Bryant Field last week. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
March 26, 2012
REGION The sun was shining and the temperatures hovered in the 70s for most of last week, as the local high school teams got spring season started the right way in the Lakes Region. It was an opening week that was in stark contrast to a year ago, when snow and cold temperatures didn't allow squads to get out of the gym until well into April.

No group of individuals was more pleased with the ability to practice outside than the athletes themselves. Keeping high schoolers cooped up in the gym for weeks on end last spring wasn't the easiest thing in the world, so this month's warm temperatures were certainly welcomed by the various players.

"We missed out on getting out last year so it's obviously really nice to be playing outside right away," said Belmont junior Austin Wilder, who plays on the Red Raiders baseball team. "Last year I felt like the schools in the southern part of the state had an advantage because they got out earlier. I think it kind of evens the playing field now."

At Gilford High School softball practice last week, the 2011 Division III semifinalists split time inside and outside, with the junior battery of pitcher Sydney Strout and catcher Paige Laliberte getting some work in out in the sunny afternoon.

"I think getting outside early will make our fielding that much better," Laliberte explained. "Some of the early games last year were a little rough because we didn't get out really at all until the first game. And offensively, it took our lineup a little while to get right because we were inside for so long."

Pitching off an actual mound instead of on the gym floor makes a big difference for hurlers, and Strout hopes the head start will have her ready to go from the first game on.

"Being all cooped up last year was tough," the lefty admitted. "It's a lot better for everyone when you get to practice outside right away. It can be tough to tell who can do what when you're just cramped inside the gym."

Over at Moultonboro Academy, the Lady Panthers softball team was getting some hitting done in the cages before heading outside to bask in the warm weather.

"It's so nice to actually be outside," admitted senior Kelsi West. "It's so much different. To actually be fielding on the grass and dirt instead of the gym floor makes a huge difference. I don't think we got outside until the end of April last year, so to be out at the end of March is crazy."

While the physical limitations are evident being stuck inside a gym, the mood amongst the MA squad was decidedly upbeat thanks to the chance to play outside.

"It's definitely picked up spirits," said MA senior outfielder Kassie Malm. "Knowing we won't be stuck inside the gym for three weeks definitely helps everyone. It's a different perspective going outside and I think it's a big advantage."

While the Belmont baseball team was out on Bryant Field practicing while the field at BHS continued to dry out last week, the junior-heavy Raiders were relishing the chance to just be out and about.

"Last year we were canceling games because of snow. It's nice that this year we've got a couple scrimmages and a jamboree scheduled before the season even starts," said junior catcher Kaleb Brace. "We really get a chance to work on the fundamentals that we're unable to practice inside a gym."

Mike Cryans
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