by Arlene Allin

Sports Writer

PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Littleton softball team will return to the finals.

The Crusaders took just about an hour and a quarter to cut down Newmarket, 6-1, on Wednesday night in the semis to set up the battle of the unbeatens for the Class M title.

NEW HAMPSHIRE SOFTBALL

Class M Semifinals

Both Hopkinton (ranked No.1 at 21-0) and Littleton (ranked No.2 at 19-0) bring unblemished records into the title tilt at 1:30 Saturday afternoon at Plymouth State. Littleton was in the championship game last year, while Hopkinton owns a string of eight titles in a 10-year period.

The Mules, turned Cinderella in the tournament, came from 11th place to the final four and were no strangers to the Crusaders. The two had met earlier in the season for a twinbill in Newmarket and Littleton won them both, 20-0 and 10-6. The Mules were the first to score on Littleton this season.

Coach Jim Ramsey knew that Newniarket had improved and had a catcher that would be watching the Crusaders' every step, but the Littleton girls are opportunistic and they always have been.

So when the Littleton girls gave up the one run in the third inning by throwing the ball wildly around and found themselves in a one-all deadlock with the Mules, they set about undoing the damage.

Ken Crowe scored the first run for the Crusaders on a long double and some errant pitches in the first inning. Newmarket got a runner on with a base hit, but Littleton catcher Kate Fillion rifled the ball to first baseman Sarah Daye to pick the Mule off.

Newmarket caught up in the third. A free pass to the eighth batter in the Mules order was followed by an overthrow at first and another to third that allowed the one run to score and left another runner on third with no outs.

Fillion teamed up with Krystin Connolly and Taryn Howard to pick thatMule off third.

quot;When they scored, we ran a play to pick the girl off third and shut that inning down. If we make a mistake, we've been able to make up for it,quot; reported Ramsey. quot;Kristen Green and Heather Rothney had two key hits. Krystin pitched well again and Janis Dinardo at shortstop made some nice plays. Their catcher was a big challenge; she kept us close to the bases.quot;

Connolly twirled a four-hitter (two by Newmarket catcher Rose LeBeau) and ended three innings with strikeouts. She issued one walk plus hit one batter, and struck out four in the oppressive, strength-sapping heat. Newmarket managed to get one ball out of the infield and Crowe was under that one in center field.

Littleton owned three more hits, then Newmarket and Becky LeBeau went the route, fanning three with one walk. Littleton's hits were very timely.

The Crusaders snapped the one-all tie in the bottom of the third with three runs. Crowe ignited the inning with her second hit of the game and Crystal Blaisdell drove her home with a single. Then with two out, two on and two strikes on her, Rothney nailed a stand-up triple and Littleton went up 4-1.

Two more runs were added to the Crusaders' cause in the fourth. Both Howard and Crowe were aboard, one on a fielders choice and one on an error, when Green lashed her double down the first base line.

Newmarket came from 11th place into the final four, but the Crusaders halted the Mules right there. The Class M finals will be a showdown of the two unbeatens on Saturday at 1:30 at D and M Park.

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