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New coach, new faces for SA Warrior softball

DYER BROOK, Maine — The Southern Aroostook softball squad has seen its fair share of changes this season, with a new head coach and a bundle of new players.

But one thing that has not changed is the Warriors winning ways. As of Thursday morning, Southern Aroostook was 5-0 on the season and ranked second in Class D North.

MacKenzie York took over the reins of the softball program from veteran coach Rob Betschner this spring. Betschner guided the Warriors for 13 seasons and during that time, his teams appeared in four regional championship games, including 2017 and 2018.

“This is my first year coaching a team as the head coach,” York said. “This created a few nerves, but I only get nervous when I really care about what I’m doing. I did assist coaching for the Houlton Middle School softball team for a season. I’ve wanted to be a coach since I was in fourth grade playing baseball.”

An English teacher at Southern Aroostook Community School, York said she feels that by being in the school system she is able to forge a bond with her players.

“I get done teaching the same kids I coach at 2:30 everyday,” she said. “So, I’m quickly able to transition into the gym, and now thankfully, the field, to help get the supplies ready.”

The team lost just one player to graduation last season, Emily Bubar, but also had a couple of members from last year’s team that decided not to play this season.

The SA roster features senior Kylie Vining (pitcher); juniors Alexis Hartin (catcher), Alexa Merry (first base), Aliyah Morales (third base) and Makaelyn Porter (shortstop); sophomores Selena Botting (first base/left field), Emma Nadeau (centerfield/first base) and Paige Vose (second base, catcher); and freshmen Esther Green (outfield), Jordyn Legassey (centerfield, second base) and Emily Stewart (utility).

Merry, who tore her ACL two seasons ago, has looked good thus far, the coach said, while Hartin got a concussion on the first day of the season, and had to miss the first two weeks. She has since returned as the team’s primary catcher.

“I’ve been worrying about the team numbers, but I feel like the girls who are remaining are beyond committed and in love with the sport,” York said. “The first game we played, I could tell there were a few jitters. Now that the snow is gone, we will quickly gain our confidence back. Even so, being inside has helped us out substantially with batting. The girls are all hitting at 65 mph, with fierce determination in their eyes.”

Producing runs has been no problem thus far, as the Warriors have outscored the opposition 50-12 in the first five games of the season.

Last year, SA was the No. 1 squad in Class D North, with a perfect 14-0 regular season record. The Warriors beat No. 9 Madawaska 11-1 in the quarterfinals and bested No. 4 Ashland 14-2 in the semifinals before falling to Penobscot Valley 7-2 in 10 innings in the regional championship. It was the second straight year that SA fell to PVHS in the regional title game.

Getting her hitters more comfortable with pitches at higher speeds has been one of the biggest challenges for the first-year coach. The past few seasons, the Warriors have cruised through the regular season with an unblemished record only to fall prey to Penobscot Valley and their hard-throwing pitcher Leine McKechnie.

“The girls pride themselves with their good humor which brings the morale of the team up during stressful times,” coach York said. “I’m only a young coach at 24, so I find this helps me relate to the girls and provide an environment where they can learn from their mistakes, instead of letting mistakes bring them down. Along with this, I preach strong communication between the girls and I so that we can avoid any problems or drama with the team.”

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