EVERETT — The first item on the agenda for the Archbishop Thomas Murphy softball team last week was offense.
The Wildcats have hit well at times, such as in a March 30 game against Orcas Island where they scored 14 runs on 19 hits. But three days later, Archbishop Murphy was blanked by Concrete.
“(There) wasn’t that much of a difference between the pitchers,” Wildcats coach Bruce Foxe said.
So Foxe decided to make hitting a priority at practice. Two different pitching machines were set up and the players also hit off of five different tees.
“We hit inside pitches, outside pitches, high pitches, low pitches,” Foxe said.
The extra time was well spent.
The Wildcats belted out nine hits in an 8-2 victory over Brewster in a non-conference game April 9 at Archbishop Murphy High School and then pounded out 36 hits in a pair of victories over Northwest 1A League rival Orcas Island the following day.
“It paid off today,” Foxe said after the victory over the Bears. “They did well today.”
Archbishop Murphy continued the hot streak it started against Brewster by dispatching Orcas Island 6-1 and 21-2.
In the Brewster game, Foxe made a few changes in his lineup, putting in freshman Shelby Clapper at catcher for the first time this season, while moving catcher Liz Kennedy to shortstop, also for the first time this year.
The Wildcats need to have some flexibility in their lineup because they still have four more regular doubleheaders this season.
“I wanted to take some of the pressure off of Liz,” Foxe said. “Sitting behind two games in a row in the hot weather is kind of hard.”
Kennedy caught the first game against Orcas Island and Clapper took over in the second game, which is the way Foxe likely will play the two in future doubleheaders.
Brewster is a perennial state playoff team so the victory gave the Wildcats a boost heading into the weekend.
“They’ve got a good team. They get better as the year goes on,” Foxe said. “I think (the win) means we’re competitive with anybody … we can compete with anybody.”
Archbishop Murphy shook off a shaky first inning in which Brewster took advantage of a pair of Wildcat throwing errors to take a 2-0 lead.
Freshman pitcher Kayelynne Huggins shut down the Bears the next six innings and finished with a season-high 15 strikeouts.
“We just settled down a lot more,” Huggins said. “(We were) a little nervous at the beginning … I felt pretty good. I was throwing hard and was pretty accurate most of the time.”
Archbishop Murphy responded in the bottom of the first inning with three runs, all of which took place with two outs.
After the first two batters were retired, Huggins, Danielle Shandera and Michelle Linscott all drew walks. Clapper then hit double to drive Huggins and Shandera. An error by the shortstop on a Kennedy grounder enabled Linscott to reach home and give the Wildcats a 3-2 advantage.
Falling behind early provided some added motivation for Archbishop Murphy.
“I think it actually pumped us up more to try and get ahead and beat this team,” Clapper said.
Archbishop Murphy added a run in the third when Linscott scored on a ground out by Kyla Thompson. In the fourth, Clapper drove in two more runs with a single to center field and then Linscott scored when Thompson was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
Huggins then helped herself with a RBI ground out in the fifth to drive home Kennedy.
“The whole team’s offense was kind of struggling and we spent the first part of the week just practicing our hitting and getting it down,” said Clapper, who was 3-for-3 with four RBI. “We came out ready … I was really focused.”
The Wildcat freshman’s success at the plate was another reason Foxe wanted to have Clapper do some catching.
“She’s starting to hit. That’s why I want to make sure we find a place for her in the game,” Foxe said.
Clapper has been doing some catching a little bit for her select team but Brewster was her debut for Archbishop Murphy.
In the first of two games against Orcas Island, Huggins allowed only one hit and was 3-for-4 at the plate to lead the Wildcats to a 6-1 victory. Clapper was for 1-for-3 with two RBI.
Sophomore Kaityn Kennedy was scheduled to start the second game, but an errant throw hit Kennedy’s pitching arm and she was unable to pitch. Huggins picked up her second victory of the day, allowing two runs on five hits.
Archbishop Murphy led 9-2 heading into the seventh inning and then scored 12 runs on nine hits for an even more decisive 21-2 triumph.
Huggins was 2-for-4 with three RBI and two runs. Liz Kennedy was 3-for-5 with five runs and Kaitlin Duffy was 4-for-5 with four RBI and four runs. Clapper also was 4-for-5 with four RBI.
“I think we’re getting better every day,” Clapper said. “We have some new players that haven’t really played before and they’re getting really good.”