Different, yet similar, Coe-Brown and John Stark softball teams ready for D-II championship
John Stark's Lyndsey Turner pitches against ConVal in the Division II semifinal on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Coe-Brown's Kianna Daudelin pitches against Pembroke Academy in the Division II semifinal on Wednesday, June 11, 2014 at Southern New Hampshire University.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
It’s a classic showdown of age versus youth, of veterans versus newcomers.
Except it’s the team of underclassmen (Coe-Brown) that has the experience, and the team with more seniors (John Stark) that’s a rookie on this championship stage.
The Bears, last year’s runner-up, are making their fifth title-game appearance in the last seven years, while the Generals are playing on the last day of the season for the first time. Only once before has John Stark even reached the final four, that coming in 2009.
Despite those differences, top-ranked Coe-Brown (17-2) and No. 7 John Stark (14-5) have one glaring thing in common: They both believe they were destined to end up in today’s Division II softball championship at Southern New Hampshire University. Game time is 4:30 p.m.
“I try to tell each team I’ve had that they always have the potential to get there,” Stark Coach Rick Sweeney said. “But this year, with the strong core of seniors and juniors, I thought – I’m not saying I had a crystal ball or anything – but I thought they had the potential more than anyone I know.”
“That was pretty much the No. 1 goal that we had from Day 1,” said Coe-Brown Coach Tim Tenasco, whose team starts eight players from last year’s runner-up squad. “And the girls did a great job dealing with the expectations and pressures of that. These girls are pretty resilient, and they’re talented.”
Coe-Brown was on most short lists of teams to beat in Division II, coming off last year’s title game appearance and returning all but two players from that team. The Bears cruised through the first month of the season, going 7-0 without really being tested before a pair of losses to Merrimack Valley and Plymouth marred their record. Still, they held onto the top seed.
“Tim Tenasco is a class-act coach and I’ve always admired and respected him,” Sweeney said. “He does a great job with his team. They’re young, but they’re very, very talented. There’s a reason they’re No. 1: They know how to play and they know how to win.”
Sweeney’s Generals, however, flew under the radar for much of the season, despite getting off to a 6-0 start. A spell of inconsistent fielding cost Stark a few games, and Sweeney said his team was fortunate to win a couple other sloppy games. But as the tournament neared, the errors dwindled, and suddenly the Generals were playing as well as anyone.
“They’re a resilient team, they really are,” Tenasco said of Stark. “They’ve gotten better as the year progressed. They’ve got a really good pitcher, and they keep on battling. We saw that the other night (in Stark’s come-from-behind semifinal victory). I think it’s going to be a challenge. They’re better than people think.”
As with any team that makes it this far, it all starts in the circle, and Coe-Brown and John Stark each have a First Team All-Stater doing the hurling.
Stark’s Lyndsey Turner, a senior, and Coe-Brown’s Kianna Daudelin, a junior, are righties of similar ilk. Neither pitcher is overpowering, but rather relies on keeping the opposition off-balance. They both throw a fastball, change-up and rise, while Turner throws a screwball to Daudelin’s curve, and neither pitcher will walk many. Their ERAs are similar, as well, both in the 1.30 to 1.60 range.
Daudelin has thrown a bulk of the Bears’ innings, including a four-hitter in the semifinals, while Turner has thrown all but three innings this season for the Generals, including all 10 in the semifinals. “And she had another 10 in her,” Sweeney only half joked.
Offensively, Coe-Brown has received production up and down the lineup, averaging 9.53 runs per game. Lauren Jones, one of just two seniors along with Shannon Burke, had two hits and drove in both runs in the semifinals from the leadoff spot, while Amanda Riley has the Bears’ top average out of the No. 2 spot. Daudelin hits third, with Burke and Holly Donohue providing the pop in the middle of the lineup. And the bottom of the order “has done so much better than last year,” Tenasco said. In fact, it was the bottom of the order that got on base for Jones’s two RBI in the semifinals, with Caitlin Foley scoring both runs.
The Generals don’t average as many runs (5.79 per game), but do have a dangerous top five. Freshman Jocelyn Dimond, who just learned to bunt from the left side this year, and Maddie Janelle (one of five seniors) are the table-setters with speed and excellent small-ball skills. Carly Cook, another senior, and junior Jackie Kilar are both batting better than .500 and have spent most of the season hitting either third or fourth, with Kilar providing plenty of power. Kendall Keim has emerged as solid protection for those two out of the No. 5 spot. Jillian Kilar and Turner also came through with big hits in the semifinals, giving the Generals production throughout.
And as if playing for the championship plaque weren’t enough, these teams have added incentive. For Jones, a four-year starter, and Burke, it’s been a mission throughout their high school years to return the title to Coe-Brown after seeing the team win it the year before they arrived on the Northwood campus. And for the Generals, it’s been a season dedicated to Joan Kilar – the mother of Jackie and Jillian and the wife of assistant coach Tim Kilar – who died in February after a battle with breast cancer.
“We’ve had some magical moments, some inspired moments this season,” Sweeney said. “I think she’s got to have something to do with that.”
The final magical moment will happen for one team this afternoon. And whether age or youth, veterans or newcomers prevail is anyone’s guess.
(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)