Concord’s Bengtson, Franklin’s Bird heading to Hartford on scholarships
Within the next few days, Concord’s Ben Bengtson and Franklin’s Kelsey Bird will be sending their National Letters of Intent to the University of Hartford, Bengtson for baseball and Bird for softball.
The signings are not related, but Bengtson, a shortstop, and Bird, a pitcher, will arrive at Hartford with something in common. What helped both of them earn scholarship offers from the Division I school and what may ultimately help them succeed on the diamonds in Hartford is talent that’s directed by a strong work ethic and outstanding character.
“The biggest adjustment for a lot of kids is the amount of work that it takes to play in college, but I think (Bengtson) will thrive with that,” Concord Coach Scott Owen said. “He’s actually fun to watch in practice. He always works hard, he always wants more ground balls and he has an energy about him that’s not something you can coach, and he brings that every single day.”
“I’ve had numerous conversations with the coaches down at Hartford over the last three or four months … and they love (Bird’s) work ethic and the way she handles herself,” Franklin Coach Skip DuBois said.
They also love her size, athleticism and potential. The 6-foot Bird has been playing varsity volleyball (outside hitter) and basketball (forward) at Franklin since her freshman year. She started at first base as a freshman on the varsity softball team, split the pitching duties with Kate Laliberte as a sophomore, and took over as the full-time hurler in 2012.
Bird pitched 118 innings last spring as a junior captain for the Golden Tornadoes, who went 13-5 and lost in the quarterfinals to top-ranked White Mountains. She struck out 147, walked 63 and allowed 75 hits, and she was named to the D-III All-State First Team. Past Franklin pitchers may have been more dominant from the high school circle, but there’s a possibility that Bird has the tools to excel from a college circle.
“The (Hartford) coaches said they’re not interested in her so much for what she is now, but what they can make her, what she might be,” said DuBois, who believes Bird is the first softball player in school history to be offered a D-I scholarship. “She’s tall, she’s got long arms, long legs, a powerful delivery, and it’s all in the potential, that’s what they’re seeing in her.”
Merrimack College and Endicott College were also after Bird, and she said it was a tough choice, but in the end Hartford offered a strong academic program in the field she wanted (communications), she liked the coaches (Diana Consolmagno is in her fourth year as the Hawks head coach) and it was the highest level of softball among her choices. The Hawks were 21-34 last year, but they did go 10-8 in America East play to finish fourth in the seven-team conference. Bird knows it doesn’t matter what kind of season Hartford has this spring, she’ll have plenty to learn when she arrives on campus next year.
“It’s going to be a lot of work, there’s going to be a lot of adjustment, and its going to be really different,” Bird said. “But the coaches have faith in me and I’m willing to put in the time and hopefully I’ll be successful.”
Bengtson, unlike Bird, had no problem picking Hartford. The Hawks contacted him about as soon as they were allowed to, calling, “on July 1 at 8:32 in the morning, I remember the time,” Bengtson said. He and his family visited the school on July 11 and after that visit, Bengtson had made up his mind, although he waited until July 28, his 18th birthday, to verbally commit.
“I loved the campus, the facilities, the guys on the team and, really, it was because I liked the coaches so much, especially (Head) Coach (Justin) Blood, that made me commit as soon as I did,” Bengtson said. “I work with Matt Tupman and Bryan Caruso at Concord Sports Center and I was looking for coaches that were just like them and I found it, so I wasn’t going to hesitate.”
The connection between all those coaches extends beyond Bengtson’s perception. Both Blood and Tupman are New Hampshire natives who played professional baseball. Blood, who went to Monadnock High in Swanzey and Franklin Pierce College, was a pitcher in the Seattle Mariners organization, and Tupman, a Concord High grad, was a catcher in the Kansas City Royals system.
Bengtson was called up to the Concord High varsity team in the middle of his sophomore season, was immediately inserted into the lineup at third base for the Crimson Tide and helped the team to the 2012 Division I title, hitting .467/.500/.467. That summer he was part of the Post 21 American Legion team (coached by Caruso and Tupman) that advanced to the New England Regional Tournament. Merrimack Valley’s David Drouin was also on that team, and Drouin, who signed with Hartford last year, hosted Bengtson during his official visit to the Connecticut campus.
This past year Bengtson was the starting shortstop for the Tide, which earned the No. 2 seed in D-I but lost to Dover in the quarterfinals. Bengtson led Concord with 24 total hits, although his overall numbers dipped (.333/.429/.417).
“Definitely the big adjustment for me in college will be with the bat, but I’m in the gym every day and I train with Matt Tupman two days a week and I pretty much live at the Concord Sports Center,” said Bengtson, who also played golf for the Crimson Tide. “I call it my sanctuary, when things are going bad, I go to the Sports Center.”
Bengtson has done a lot of winning during his baseball days in Concord, including a Hilliker Cup championship while he was in Little League. Hartford, however, is a program in rebuilding mode and went 17-36 last year. Still, Bengtson, and Owen, believe the school is a good fit.
“I went on an official visit and stayed overnight and met every single player on the team, and watched a practice with my family, it just felt like I would be at home there next year,” Bengtson said.
“We talked a few times and I think Ben really did his homework and put a lot of research into it,” Owen said. “I think it’s going to be great for him.”
(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)