Chieftains cruise to D-III softball crown

Chieftains cruise to D-III softball crown

The members of the Ponaganset High softball team, which concluded its undefeated season by winning the Division III championship on Sunday afternoon at Rhode Island College, are, in front from left, Leslie Peckham, Kristen Briggs, Falyn Lusignan, Chloe Skene-Poirier, Jessica Hassell, Jenna Greene, Jordan McGuire, and Caitlyn Sharpe; in middle row, assistant coach Cassie Acciaioli, Victoria Cramer, Brianna Parenteau, Meghan Viveiros, Hannah Merson, Mallory Gilmore, Shannon Healey, Liana Nerbonne, Anna Baxter, Mackenzie Gilmore, and Isabelle Besser; in back, assistant coach David Armstrong, head coach Michael Calenda, and assistant coach Mike Hassell. (Breeze photo by Eric Benevides)
Ponaganset caps 19-0 season in new division with mercy-rule victories over Wheeler

PROVIDENCE – There was no drama or suspense in Sunday afternoon’s Division III softball championship game at Rhode Island College.

Heck, there hadn’t been much drama or suspense this year for undefeated Ponaganset High, which since moving down to Division III, has dominated its opponents and won 17 of its 19 games by the mercy rule.

The Chieftains’ 19th and final D-III win came in the second game of their best-of-three title series against the Wheeler School, and it was a 15-1 triumph that was cut short after five innings and gave Ponaganset its first softball championship in its history.

The only drama to the Chieftains’ season came in the offseason, when they appeared to be on the brink of needing to form a co-op team with another program with low numbers.

Not only had Ponaganset totaled just nine victories during its 2017 and ’18 seasons in Division II, but the Chieftains graduated nine of their 14 players last year and had no idea what the incoming Class of 2022 would bring to their program.

“We were on the verge of merging with Scituate,” said Ponaganset head coach Mike Calenda. “We were very close, but we had 11 freshmen come in, and a lot of them got playing time. Five of them start for us, and our pitcher (Liana Nerbonne) is a sophomore.”

“But they’re great kids,” Calenda continued. “I’m very proud of them. They worked hard all year.”

And the Chieftains, with only two seniors, Jordan McGuire and Brianna Parenteau, on their roster, had a spring to remember, with the Wheeler School (15-4) providing Ponaganset with its closest contest of the season on May 6 – a 12-4 victory that saw the Warriors come alive in the latter innings.

In their 19 league games, the Chieftains outscored their opponents by a whopping 311-21 margin. They also shut out nine teams and allowed just one run in five other contests.

Will the Chieftains’ dominance in this division translate into a return to Division II in 2020? Teams in the past, such as Woonsocket (2010) and Scituate (2017), were thrusted into the RIIL’s second division after proving they didn’t belong in D-III after just one season there.

“We certainly hope so,” added Calenda.

If there was any excitement from last weekend’s title series, it came in the series opener last Saturday afternoon when Wheeler struck for a run in the top of the first inning. But Ponaganset came back to not only take a 5-1 lead after two innings of play, but also erupt for 17 unanswered runs in the third and end up with a 22-1 victory that was stopped after 3½ innings.

“(Wheeler) gave us a scare in the first inning,” added Calenda. “They’re a competitive team – they were our competition really to get here – and that’s a good team over there, there’s no doubt about it.”

In Sunday’s series clincher, the Chieftains put some distance between themselves and the Warriors with another big inning, this one resulting in eight runs in the top of the third inning and allowing Ponaganset to own a 13-0 command.

After collecting just two hits through the first two innings to take a 5-0 lead, with one of the hits a two-run single by Jenna Greene, the Chieftains came out swinging in the third.

Mallory Gilmore’s two-run triple to deep center field highlighted the inning, which also saw Victoria Cramer contribute a two-run single and Jessica Hassell and Nerbonne drive in runs with base hits.

Speaking of Nerbonne, she ended up pitching a four-hitter that saw her strike out seven batters and walk one. The Warriors’ run came in the bottom of the fourth.