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Mission accomplished for Coe-Brown seniors Jones and Burke

Coe-Brown's Abigail Ahern catches a ball in the outfield during the Division II softball championships against John Stark at SNHU on Saturday, June 14, 2014.  Coe-Brown won 6-5.

(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

Coe-Brown's Abigail Ahern catches a ball in the outfield during the Division II softball championships against John Stark at SNHU on Saturday, June 14, 2014. Coe-Brown won 6-5. (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff) Purchase photo reprints at PhotoExtra »

MANCHESTER – When Lauren Jones and Shannon Burke arrived at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy four years ago as freshmen, they were joining a softball program that had made three straight trips to the title game and was coming off its first championship season in more than 30 years.

More title games were in their future, they figured, and it wouldn’t take 30 years to win another.

First-round losses in 2011 and 2012 could have planted seeds of doubt. A 5-3 championship loss a year ago could have been demoralizing. Instead, this year’s Bears, led by their two seniors, used it as motivation. From the day the

season ended last June into winter workouts and throughout this spring, the mission was to bring the Division II title back to Coe-Brown.

Yesterday, the goal that was 371 days in the making came to fruition, with the top-ranked Bears (18-2) winning in walk-off fashion, 6-5 over No. 7 John Stark (14-6).

“It drove us. I’m thankful that we lost (last year) because it drove us this whole year,” said Burke, who’ll enlist in the Army by the month’s end. “It motivated our entire team this whole year. It brought us back and was able to help us win the ’ship.”

“It’s definitely worth the wait. It still doesn’t even seem real,” said Jones, who will play on this same Southern New Hampshire University field next year for the Penmen. “It’s amazing. It’s a great feeling knowing that we all came together to actually accomplish this final goal that we all had, that we’ve had for years.”

Jones got it all started with a leadoff triple in the bottom of the first inning, then scored on Amanda Riley’s triple three pitches later. But like the lofty expectations of their high school careers, they’d soon find some obstacles in the path to the title.

Obstacles like an uncharacteristic rash of errors behind pitcher Kianna Daudelin that led to four unearned runs. Obstacles like a 3-2 deficit and momentum slipping away in the middle innings.

But characteristic of this resilient bunch, when faced with adversity, the Bears hit it out of the park … literally … twice.

Amanda Riley, who went 3-for-4 and was just a double shy of hitting for the cycle, blasted the ball some 230 feet for a solo homer over the center field fence to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth. Daudelin, the next batter, fouled off three straight pitches with a full count before her towering fly to left-center landed on the other side of the fence. Suddenly, in a span of 10 pitches, the Bears turned a one-run deficit into a one-run lead. And three batters later, Coe-Brown had a 5-3 lead after a double by Holly Donohue and an RBI single up the middle from Caitlin Foley.

John Stark, however, answered in its next at-bat to tie the game, capitalizing on a pair of Coe-Brown errors, sending the game into the final inning tied at 5-5.

“We’re a comeback team. We’re going to fight ’til the end,” Burke said. “We put so much work in, we weren’t going down easily this year. We were just going to battle until we couldn’t anymore.”

The battle started on the first pitch to Daudelin to lead off the bottom of the seventh. The junior stroked a shot to the left-center field gap for a triple to bring up Burke. With a 1-0 count, the senior scorched a line drive toward right, but Stark second baseman Jocelyn Dimond pulled it down for the first out. Donohue then stepped to the plate and lofted a 1-1 offering to left field. Daudelin tagged up at third then took off for home, sliding around the catcher and sweeping her hand over the plate for the winning run.

“I think it’s such a big step for the program because we’ve gotten so many seconds the last six or seven years,” Daudelin said. “And to finally win it – we won it once in 2010 – but to finally win it after the last few years, it means so much. This team, that’s our goal the entire year was to get here, to finish it this time because we came in second last year.”

So after its fifth title game appearance in the last seven years, Coe-Brown grabbed its second championship in that span, and the program’s third overall, completing its season-long mission.

“I think it validates them, all the hard work they’ve done for four years. All of these girls, but especially those two,” Coach Tim Tenasco said of his two seniors. “Shannon, she’s grown so much as a person, as a player, this team meant so much to her. Same thing with Jonesy, too. They will be missed tremendously, not only because they’re such great players, but also because they’re great kids.”

And with all but Jones and Burke returning, the goals could be similar next season.

“I think it leaves great expectations knowing that we’ve come so close in the past and that today we actually pulled it off,” Jones said. “It’s basically the same team, it’s just Shannon and I leaving, so they should be able to pull it off again.”

(Sandy Smith can be reached at 369-3339 or ssmith@cmonitor.com.)

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