READFIELD — When Alissa Michaud dug into the batter’s box for the first time in the bottom of the third inning Thursday afternoon, it would have been easy not to even notice it was her.
Not because the sophomore catcher isn’t a key cog in the Maranacook wheel, but because she is the spitting image of the Black Bears’ usual No. 9 hitter in the order — her twin sister, Alexis.
The sister tandem teamed up to dominate fifth-seeded Winthrop as the No. 4 Black Bears advanced to the Class C South semifinals with a 4-1 victory. First baseman Esme Jamison had a run-scoring single in a two-run fourth inning, and senior DP Shelby Smith tripled and scored in a two-run fifth for Maranacook.
And while those runs were welcome, it was Alexis Michaud who delivered one of her best performances of the campaign. She finished with a complete game two-hitter, with four strikeouts and just two walks. Michaud was perfect through the first three innings of the 77-minute contest, throwing to her sister just as she’s done all season long.
“It can be frustrating sometimes, but it’s really good, too,” Alissa Michaud said of catching her sibling. “I’ve been catching for her ever since we started in tee ball. When she’s doing something wrong, I know how to help her fix it. We just work great together, and we’ve been doing it for a while now.”
For a pitcher with no high school experience prior to the start of the season, it was a welcome relief to have her twin behind the plate to steer her through a pair of playoff victories this week.
“I love pitching to her,” Alexis Michaud said. “I knew it would be a little scary at first (in high school), but knowing she was behind the plate and catching for me made it so much better.”
Maranacook assistant coach Amy Jones believes the chemistry between the sisters has been crucial to their on-field development.
“Those two ladies always want to get better, and I think that’s one of the reasons they’re so good at such a young age,” Jones said. “It doesn’t hurt that when they go out in the backyard that they throw to each other, right? They’ve had a lot of opportunities to get better, and they’ve been rock solid for us all year.”
Nursing a slim, one-run lead into the fifth, Smith tripled to begin the inning. Alissa Michaud skipped a ground ball to second that plated Smith with an insurance run. Given an opportunity to get into the batting lineup Thursday, Alissa Michaud delivered in her chance to replace her sister.
The respite was welcome for Alexis Michaud after toiling through a marathon 19-8 win over Traip in the mid-90s humidity on Monday.
“I can tell when she’s frustrated,” Alissa Michaud said. “I definitely will go out to her and talk to her and remind her just to pitch to my glove.”
That communication has been key to steepening the learning curve this spring.
“She’s pushing herself more,” Alissa Michaud said. “She’s throwing a lot more strikes and using her mental toughness. At the beginning (of the season), she put a lot of pressure on herself because she’s our only pitcher. She was pitching a lot and getting tired, but she’s pushing through that now and doing great.”
“I put all my effort into it. I was driving myself and trying to push forward,” Alexis Michaud said. “Against Traip, it was hot and I was getting tired. You just have to put it behind you and focus on what you need to do. If there’s an error in the field behind me, that’s fine. I just have to do my job and pitch.”
She’s done that well enough that the Black Bears have now advanced through the first two rounds of the tournament without missing a beat.
“At first, I probably would have needed a little convincing,” Alexis Michaud said of Maranacook’s potential for a deep playoff run. “The beginning of the season was a little stressful, but now I would believe it. We’ve been playing well.”
“They love softball. They eat, sleep and breathe it,” Maranacook head coach Don Beckwith added. “That’s their game. They play a lot of ball and they’re good to work with. All our kids are. I think that’s why we’ve had so much success is because they’re willing to try the things that we do.”