Staying loose and stepping up: With 10 wins, MV softball is geared up for the playoffs

Merrimack Valley catcher Julia Herrmann tags out Hollis-Brookline baserunner Jenna O’Connor in a rundown during the seventh inning to help preserve the win on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

Merrimack Valley catcher Julia Herrmann tags out Hollis-Brookline baserunner Jenna O’Connor in a rundown during the seventh inning to help preserve the win on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Merrimack Valley right fielder Ryleigh Perry beats out a throw against Hollis-Brookline on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Perry went on to score.

Merrimack Valley right fielder Ryleigh Perry beats out a throw against Hollis-Brookline on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Perry went on to score. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Merrimack Valley shortstop Caydence Allberg just misses a line drive against Hollis-Brookline on Wednesday, May 22, 2024.

Merrimack Valley shortstop Caydence Allberg just misses a line drive against Hollis-Brookline on Wednesday, May 22, 2024. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 05-22-2024 7:42 PM

Modified: 05-23-2024 9:21 AM


PENACOOK — Merrimack Valley softball coach Kevin O’Brien has three rules for his team: work hard, give effort and recognize that some days are better than others. 

It’s sounds overly simplistic. But it works.

Wednesday’s 16-12 victory over Hollis-Brookline was just the latest example. In a game the Pride (10-6) at one point led 15-3, the Cavaliers (10-6) fought back to close the gap to 15-11 in the fifth inning. O’Brien’s three-pillared mantra helped guide the way.

“Very simple formula. Don’t worry about the records and all that stuff,” he said following the victory. “The wins and losses take care of themselves. They’re high school students. They make mistakes, but when (Hollis-Brookline) came back, we came back at them.”

The offense came out of the gates hot, plating two runs in the first inning, four in the second, three in the third and six in the fourth. Junior Caydence Allberg led the way at the top of the lineup, going 3-for-4 with two doubles and four runs scored; right behind her, junior Kayla Smith finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, three RBI and three runs scored and sophomore Katelyn Herrmann was 4-for-5 with a double and three RBI.

“I think we were assertive at the plate,” O’Brien said. “I don’t think we let strikes go by. I think we were in attack mode.”

In the circle, Smith battled, pitching all seven innings and striking out three. One of the key reasons for the team’s overall success this season, O’Brien emphasized, has been because Smith and Allberg have both stepped up to pitch. Neither had really pitched since sixth grade, but at the end of last season, they told their coach they’d pitch since the team needed help in the circle.

Both juniors and planning to continue their softball careers in college, Smith at Central Connecticut and Allberg at the University of Lynchburg, O’Brien’s been careful to not overuse them as pitchers and risk an injury. But the fact they’ve been willing to step up for the greater good of the team has sent the rest of the group a clear message.

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“They’ve been great,” O’Brien said. “The best thing the both of them do, they keep us in games, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Entering the season, the Pride had four goals: win 10 games, make the playoffs, host a playoff game and win a playoff game. Wednesday’s victory was MV’s 10th, and depending on tiebreakers it could finish as high as the six seed in the Division II bracket, positioning itself for a home playoff game next week. Last year, the Pride were upset in the first round at home by 10th-seeded Sanborn. This time around, MV’s pushing for a more positive outcome.

As O’Brien always reminds his team, some days are better than others, but he has faith that his group has what it takes. They’ve had the right approach all season long, and more often than not, it’s worked out in their favor.

“This team, we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Every day, we joke around, we have fun,” he said. “But it’s a mistake if someone doesn’t take us seriously.”