LINCOLN – Casie Beauchemin, Lincoln High's heralded junior right fielder, sat back on a bench in front of the school early Wednesday afternoon trying to convey how incredible it felt to be a part of a team that not only captured two consecutive state Division I titles, but did so with an unblemished 43-0 mark.
“It definitely hasn't hit me yet,” she grinned while peering at fellow tri-captain and recent graduate Lindsay Mayer. “I don't think it will until we're older. Right now, it all seems so surreal to me. We won so many games without losing, and those kinds of things don't happen, like, ever. At least it's not supposed to.
“When you get older, and you start to think back, that's when you think, 'Wow! We went 43-0, and won two state titles. That's ridiculous!'”
Mayer, the state's premier pitcher who closed her final two seasons at 36-0, took a different take after being asked if the astonishing feat had sunk in yet.
“I think it hit some of us after the game; we had a celebration cookout at my house after the game (on Sunday, after the Lions claimed a 5-1 championship triumph over gritty Coventry), and that's when I realized I wouldn't be wearing a Lincoln jersey anymore,” she stated. “It made me sad, but I also had a feeling of great accomplishment.
“I knew we had won every one of the last 43 games we had played,” she added, “and that makes me feel good. It's almost like we were a part of school history.”
She looked at her kid sister and batterymate, sophomore Stacy, and remarked, “Hey, she hasn't lost a game in her high school career!”
Stacy, relaxing on a nearby bench, immediately smiled, “Wow, that's cool! I never really thought of it that way. Like Casie was saying, you really don't think about that kind of stuff in the moment, but – when we get back to playing next year – I think that's when it will sink in.
“I mean, we were crazy good for two years, and I don't know if we're ever going to have the same kind of success again.”
Fact is, head coach Dick Ryan and assistant Alisha Pirri have lost only two players to graduation, the elder Mayer and starting shortstop/tri-captain Emily Bouthillette, another key cog in the Lions' roll. They'll also have 14 underclassmen returning.
Perhaps the lone question mark: Who will fill Mayer's spikes on the rubber?
Nothing details better how amazing this 2013 campaign was than the team's statistics: Within that 20-0 D-I record (excluding a non-league victory), Lincoln manufactured five shutouts, allowed only run in nine games and two in another pair. Just once did it yield five runs (to Mount St. Charles in a 6-5 road win on April 16), and twice did it relinquish four.
In the Lions' 16-0 regular season, they outscored their opponents by a whopping 119-26 count (7.44 runs per tilt compared to 1.63). They also outscored their playoff foes, 24-3, for a final overall tally of 143-29.
In four of those contests, they yielded 16 runs, but they didn't give up any more than two in the other 16.
How they got to that title, however, is more than interesting, as it didn't come without some trepidation.
Still, Beauchemin and the Mayer sisters recalled being amped up even during Ryan's initial meeting with the club in LHS' Room 203 in early March.
“I was just excited to get back to practicing, and trying to do the same thing we had the year before,” Mayer the grad remembered. “I could tell at the meeting we were all anxious to get back. When Coach Ryan introduced himself (as the new mentor) last season at the same meeting, he told us he was here to win a state championship. He said the same thing this year.”
Offered Beauchemin: “You could tell by the atmosphere in the room. People were ecstatic we were back together, and we all knew we had talent coming back. Coach was telling us we should accept nothing less than winning again.”
After crushing Westerly, 12-0, in the season opener on April 3, the Lions ran into its first roadblock when it faced Tolman at Bailey Field five days later.
“It was tied, 0-0, and we had to play extra innings,” Lindsay said. “We couldn't get anything going, and I said, 'What the heck are we doing?' I was pretty upset, and I told everyone, 'There's no way we're losing this game!'”
In the end, Lindsay plated Beauchemin with a single to center with what proved to be the game-clincher, and the younger Mayer drove in classmate Adriana Toro with an insurance run during the international tie-breaker system (each team starts the frame with a runner at second).
The Lions reigned, 3-0, in eight.
Beauchemin indicated another “Uh-oh!” moment occurred in a tilt at North Kingstown's Ryan Park on Monday, May 13. The Skippers had fought back to knot it at 2-2 with a pair in the bottom of the seventh.
“(North Kingstown's coaches) had switched the game to 7 p.m. so they could get more fans there, and it was so dark out I could hardly see the ball (despite the lights),” she laughed. “I was just thinking 'Thank God I've got a backup (in Toro, who plays center), because she can fly.' I was also thinking that we had to pull it together.
“I started at second in the eighth, and Adriana singled me to third,” she continued. “When she stole second and the catcher threw it there, I sprinted home with a hook slide. I was so pumped, I grabbed some dirt and threw it down (after the 3-2 win).
“Then again, we had a few close calls.”
Lindsay explained, “That's the way it was for the majority of games. We were flat, and I think it was because we thought we could just show up and win. We were taking it for granted; that's not the way to think.”
Mentioned Beauchemin: “I believe those tight games brought us closer together. It taught us the concept of team unity, and that the way we were winning, we knew we could rely on each other to pick up the team. We started to realize we couldn't just show up and win.”
All claimed Ryan's down-home, relaxed demeanor helped them keep focus, but – if for some reason it wasn't apparent on a given day, even at practice – he'd let them know it.
“He was pretty much a quiet leader unless he really had something to say,” Stacy stated. “If we did lose our focus, he'd get pretty loud. When he raised his voice, we knew we'd better pay attention.”
Tri-captain Mayer smiled when describing how Ryan would refill the candy bucket that he brought to every game.
“I think he did that so we'd have more energy; he also had a lollipop in his mouth most of the time, (and) we assumed it was so he wouldn't yell at the umps about a bad call,” she giggled. “He didn't give many inspirational pre-game speeches; he wanted those to come from the captains.
“I think he liked that about us, and that he trusted us to communicate what he wanted us to do as a team,” she added. “He had faith in us.”
The last five regular-season tilts all resulted in triumphs, but they were hardly easy: Following the tense affair in North Kingstown, Lincoln survived back-to-back 7-4 verdicts at Bay View and against Toll Gate, then registered a 4-1 win over La Salle, a 5-1 decision over rival Cumberland and a 3-1 victory over the Knotty Oakers, all at its Saylesville Elementary School home.
“I kept telling the girls we needed to start our games with a couple of runs, jump on them right away,” Lindsay remarked. “If we did that, and if (our production) did die down, at least we'd be ahead. We wouldn't have to scrap for runs at the end.”
The top-ranked Lions opened the tourney with a 4-1 victory over No. 9 Bay View, then drilled 12th-ranked Toll Gate, 12-0. In the winners' bracket final against No. 3 Coventry, they grabbed two runs in the bottom of the first and held on tight to a 3-1 triumph at RIC.
That gave Ryan and Co. its second consecutive berth in the title tilt, and once more the foe would be the Oakers.
What happened then was a deluge of rain, day after day, and postponements truly began to bother the head coach, who had planned on leaving on a family vacation to Aruba on Thursday, June 13. He switched his flight to Friday, then again to Saturday when the drizzle continued.
Once the final had been rescheduled for Father's Day, Ryan indicated his wife, Jean, had given him the option to fly with her, daughter Kelly and her beau on Saturday, or attend the game.
Ryan claimed after Lincoln had snared the 5-1 victory that Jean had been more than supportive, and he thanked her for being so patient. She also told him he belonged with his extended family, and that's what it has become over the past 15 months.
“Coach was a huge part of what we accomplished,” Beauchemin said. “I think a lot of the girls were inspired by his dedication. Just the fact he changed his flight twice for us tells you that. He also went out of his way to buy ice cream for us after a win, or candy for the dugout.
“But it goes beyond that; in practices, he'd show us what to do and why, and he gave us a fun environment to play in,” she continued. “He'd praise us after we made a good play, and sing the ESPN theme, 'Da-da-DUN, da-da-DUN.' That would make us laugh.
“He also liked to push us; he always told us how much potential we had, and we shouldn't settle for anything but winning. He was never really satisfied because he expected so much from us.”
Even while the Lincoln girls racked up the wins, one thing bugged them; they didn't feel they had earned enough respect from some other teams. That's one reason they made up a chant they'd begin while traveling back to school after a game.
“It became a tradition,” noted Lindsay. “I don't know who came up with it, but – to be completely honest – we'd do it because we felt some other teams didn't acknowledge us. Maybe part of it was jealousy, I don't know.”
She then chuckled, “We'd strategically plan when to start the chant, like when we were arriving (in the parking lot). We wanted the other athletes to hear us.”
Stacy stated another key behind the squad's tremendous success, besides Ryan, came from the bond the Lions shared.
“It was the combination of us believing we had good athletes with not having any real cliques,” she explained. “We're more like sisters. On or off the field, we're always together. In the hallways or the cafeteria, if we saw each other, we'd scream out each other's name, like 'Case!' or 'Stace!' or 'Steph!' or 'Adgi' (that's Toro).
“We just like being around each other,” she added. “We're very simple people; we can be loud and obnoxious, but when it's time for a game, we're focused. Coach is a big part of that. He's a lot like us. We all have a huge passion to win, and we have fun doing it.”