Salem High's Nicole Gubellini notched eight strikeouts, but primarily pitched to contact.
The problem for Concord High hitters taking their cuts? Gubellini never allowed them to get the barrel of the bat on the ball.
The end result, aided greatly by strong infield defense, was a no-hitter for the senior hurler and 5-0 Division I softball win April 11. Two days earlier, she threw an abbreviated no-no in Salem's season-opening 14-0 mercy-rule win at Rochester's Spaulding High.
Concord's Lindsey Stevenson reached on an infield error to open the game. Then, Gubellini retired 21 outs in a row. Her complete-game masterpiece took 65 minutes to complete.
“I can feel it, when things are good,” said Gubellini, a four-year pitcher for the Blue Devils and scholarship recruit of Quinnipiac University. “Some days, some pitches are better than others.”
Gubellini claimed her changeup – among an array of pitches she throws with accuracy and confidence – wasn't consistently sharp against the Crimson Tide.
She could have fooled Concord coach Duke Sawyer. She did fool her share of hitters.
“She's tough. Salem's tough,” said Sawyer, who took last year's Tide team to the state final. “She pitched against us last year a little bit. She did well last year, too.”
In addition to fanning eight, Salem's ace induced 12 outs via grounders or weak infield pop-ups.
Everyone in the infield – from catcher Amanda Biron, third baseman Hannah Latham, shortstop Samantha Cloutier, second baseman Sarah Frahm and first baseman Emily O'Brien to Gubellini herself – played a part in recording at least one of those 12 outs.
Only one fly ball reached the outfield. Center fielder Stephanie Long tracked it down.
Strong pitching is nothing new at Salem, where Granite State legend Harold Sachs has led the Blue Devils to 14 state titles.
But last year's quarterfinal-round exit was a stunner. The Blue Devils, as the top tournament seed, were beaten by Nashua's Bishop Guertin High.
“We won the regular-season league last year. We believed we were the best team last year. That has not changed in our thinking,” said Sachs, who won his 500th career game last May. “And we just think we're better this year. I don't know what that's going to mean down the road.”
Should Gubellini give Salem a season worth of strong starts, it might mean trouble for the opposition.
MORE DIAMOND DOMINANCE
NHIAA baseball's April 9 Opening Day included a pair of mercy-rule-shortened no-hitters.
Jordan Bean tossed one for Division II St. Thomas Aquinas High of Dover. Nick Massa celebrated the other for Division II Kennett High of Conway.
STA beat Division I Dover High, 10-0, in five innings. Bean, a senior, tallied seven strikeouts and set down 14 batters to close the contest after issuing a one-out walk in the opening frame.
He also had the game-winning hit: a first-inning solo home run.
Kennett defeated Division III Berlin High, 10-0, in five innings. Massa, also a junior, fanned seven, walked one and contributed a run-scoring hit.
STILL GOING STRONG
Portsmouth High began taking aim at its fifth consecutive Division II baseball championship April 9. Coach Tim Hopley & Co. opened with an 11-1 win at Wolfeboro's Kingswood Regional.
The six-inning, 10-run mercy decision marked the 84th consecutive win for the Clippers.
Briefly the national record-holder late last spring, Portsmouth opened the 2012 campaign with an active win streak that ranked second to Martensdale-St. Mary's High (87) of Martensdale, Iowa.
Billy Hartmann ripped three hits, the biggest being an RBI double in the fifth. Hartmann's key hit snapped a 1-1 tie and sparked a seven-run outburst.
Rick Holt, the team's pitching ace this season, helped his cause with a two-run double. Dillon Crosby connected for a three-run, sixth-inning homer that capped the onslaught.
"I was pleased with the way we handled ourselves in the first week," said Hopley, whose club won its 85th straight game, a 12-1 decision at Northwood's Coe-Brown Academy, on April 13. "Our pitching was good, offensively we were okay. But we've got to do a better job on the defensive side of the ball. Our timing and judgment were off, and we'll have to pay more attention to that in the immediate future so that it doesn't become a problem."
Since boys' lacrosse was first sanctioned by the NHIAA in 1994, only two programs in New Hampshire have celebrated a championship three-peat.
Bishop Guertin this spring aims to join Division I rival Pinkerton Academy of Derry (1994-97, 1999-2002) and Division II Bow High (2002-04, 2008-10) in accomplishing the feat.
Guertin's Cardinals, heavy preseason favorites to win a fifth overall title, started strong in their Division I opener April 10. The state's No. 1-ranked team in the New Hampshire GameDay top 10 (“X-factors: April 9-15, 2012”) overpowered No. 3 Hanover High, 15-3.
“They're, like, in mid-season form. We're still in preseason, I think,” quipped Hanover coach Jeff Reed, whose Marauders, Division I champs in 2007 and 2009 have teamed with the Cards to win all five titles from 2007-11.
Midfielder Paul Spinney powered BG's offense with a game-high four points (three goals, assist). His assist, on a dish to Hunter Allen late in the opening period, snapped a 1-1 deadlock.
It also set off a six-goal run to close the first half. Guertin's defense, when challenged, answered the call.
Close defenders Bob Fahey and Kyle Karaska, and long-stick midfielder Brody Smith, led the lock-down effort on Hanover's top threats. Attackman Christian Johansen and midfielder Christian Wolter didn't post a point.
“Our challenge to these guys is to come every day to practice, practice hard, get better by the time we leave the field,” BG coach Chris Cameron said. “And show up for every game.”
Marc Thaler is a reporter for the New Hampshire Union Leader & Sunday News. He co-hosts the “N.H. Sports Show” on Manchester's WGIR-AM 610 and the Seacoast's 96.7 FM every Saturday from 7-9 a.m. Read his “New Hampshire GameDay” blog and follow him on Twitter: @marc_thaler.