The pitcher’s mound can be a lonely place.
A year ago as a sophomore, still getting acclimated at the varsity level, Micaela Lannon was at times tentative, not entirely in focus.
But when the Duxbury High junior was in the midst of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning at Pembroke High on Wednesday, she locked into catcher Caroline McSherry and registered a strikeout, and then induced a pop-up to preserve her shutout.
“Last year, I would let [those situations] get to my head a little too much,” said Lannon. “This year, I forget about everything, and I’ve learned to block things out.”
Lannon has developed into an elite pitcher in the Patriot League this season. After the 9-0 win at Pembroke, she stood at 13-3 with an earned run average below 1.80.
And after the Dragons failed to qualify for the tournament last year for the first time in a decade, they are leaning heavily on Lannon, who worked hard in the offseason with her pitching coach, Jen Fister , adding a screwball and a drop.
She also worked with McSherry before the preseason to develop better chemistry.
“I don’t call pitches anymore,” added Duxbury coach Rod Laniewski . “They work well together.”
“My dad makes a joke that I can only throw to three people: my pitching coach, himself, and Caroline,” added Lannon.
While the Lannon-McSherry battery has been all about run prevention, McSherry has supplied a .650 average with one home run and 26 RBIs at the plate.
“They have [junior Christina Curley] batting third and McSherry fourth: two big hitters,” said Hanover coach Joe Messina . “They have a fast runner [hitting] first, and somebody that could bunt second, with those three and four hitters knocking runs in. It’s good, basic softball.
Duxbury “has a nice mixture of speed and power, and an intimidating pitcher,’’ he said.
Here are four other softball programs to watch in the state tournament:
■ Nearly halfway through the season, Walpole High coach Jim Duffy was not sure if his players were focused enough for a tournament run.
The Rebels absorbed back-to-back losses to Dedham and Norwood by a combined score of 21-2, dropping to 4-5.
Walpole (11-6) quickly turned the page in May, ripping off seven straight wins, including a 3-2 victory over Bridgewater-Raynham.
Sophomore Stephanie Sem has been a welcome addition in her first year of varsity ball, allowing only 17 runs in 49 innings pitched. Classmate Mehron Hoag is 2-0 with a 0.88 earned run average.
The biggest surprise has been the emergence of sophomore Lauren Regan , who has developed into an elite outfielder in the Bay State Conference. Her speed has been crucial at the top of the order, where she has reached base on six bunts and stolen 10 bases. “If you get hot mentally, that can carry you through some games,” said Dedham coach Erika Eisenhut of the Rebels’ winning streak. “To have that going for them heading into the tournament, they can have a good run.”
■ In a South Shore League that has been dominated by the Abington girls, East Bridgewater is ready to make noise in “the toughest division in the state,” the Division 2 South tourney, according to coach Mike Dunphy.
Outside its two losses to Abington, East Bridgewater (13-4) went 12-0 in league play, and defeated Whitman-Hanson, a Division 1 team, in their second meeting of the season.
Senior Jenna Cullivan is hitting .580 with 17 RBIs. Behind the plate, senior Ashley Levesque has helped ease sophomore Jhonna Egan into the starting role, where she has thrived as the ace.
“They’ve got a great hitting team,” said Abington coach Ernie Ortega , “and they have a heck of a catcher. Very strong catcher, very good hitters.
“You’re manufacturing runs this time of year. If you make contact and get on base, you have to figure out how to get them around. Being a good contact hitter is what you need, and East Bridgewater has some big hitters.”
■ The last two seasons, Avon has been knocked out by two-time Division 3 South champion Case, once in the quarterfinals in 2010, and again in the final last season.
Coach Karen McCarthy knows her 17-1 Panthers may have to go through Case once again, but she says they are eager for the challenge.
Junior Maggie Hoffman has been on a tear, posting a 15-1 record with a 1.17 earned run average on the mound to go along with her .604 batting average, four home runs, and 28 runs batted in at the plate.
Center fielder Lindsay MacQuarrie (.628 average, two HRs, 18 RBIs) has been the perfect complement to Hoffman.
“The last couple of years, Case has bumped us every time,” said McCarthy. “Our goal this year is to get by them in order to [win the Division 3 South].”
■ Archbishop Williams has not been in the postseason since the 2006-07 season, but that hasn’t kept second-year coach Bill O’Brien from dreaming big.
For the Bishops (10-7), it all starts with junior Christine Chase , who O’Brien said is “light years” ahead of where she was last year. She leads the Catholic Central League in home runs (8), while hitting .475 with 22 RBIs. In the circle, she has 91 strikeouts with just 19 walks.
Sophomore third baseman Cait Kearney (23 RBIs) is seventh in the league with a .473 batting average. At the top of the order, O’Brien’s daughter, Courtney, has 11 stolen bases and a .519 batting average.
Staying on top
Braintree High is renowned as a baseball power, but no more so than in the 1970s and 1980s when the Wamps were at the height of their glory.
Coach Bill O’Connell is hoping his program is at the start of a similar reign.
With a 7-0 win over Needham on Monday, the Wamps (12-5) clinched their third consecutive Bay State League Carey division title, and fourth in the last five seasons.
“It’s great to bring the tradition back to Braintree,” said O’Connell. “The program took a step back for a while, but it seems to be back now.”
After a 6-1 loss to Walpole in the season opener, Braintree won 11 of its next 14 conference games.
“A lot of teams show up and, no matter what their record is, want to beat the teams at top of the league,” said O’Connell.
“It’s a great challenge to always get teams’ best efforts. Hopefully it gives us confidence and some momentum.