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Morrill, Tide knock out defending champion Alvirne

Dani Morrill has everyone fooled.

Coming on in relief with two runners on and no outs with her team trailing by a run in the Division I softball quarterfinals, no problem. Seven pitches later she’s out of the inning unscathed. Runners on second and third with just one out in a now tied ballgame in the sixth inning, no problem. Two straight strikeouts end that jam. Two-out triple in extra innings, again no problem. Just field the bunt and throw from your knees to nab the runner at first.

And with the winning run 60 feet away with two outs in the bottom of the eighth and Morrill at the plate? A sharp single to right-center ended it, giving the Concord junior both the walk-off game-winning hit and the win in relief in the top-ranked Tide’s 3-2 victory over two-time defending state champion Alvirne, the eighth seed.

“I might look calm, but it’s not really how I am. I’m so nervous and shaking all the time,” said Morrill, who threw five innings of two-hit, shutout relief. “So, yes, I was nervous.”

She refused to let the nerves get the better of her, however, instead embracing the situation.

Katie Kennard lined a one-out single to center to spark the winning rally, and Jess Carroll followed with another single up the middle. Katherine Muzzey, running for Kennard, tagged up on Amy Morin’s long fly to center, giving Concord runners at the corners, but with two outs. Morrill worked the count to 3-1 then lined a shot to right-center to send the Tide (18-2) into the final four for the eighth time in the last nine years. Concord will meet No. 4 Salem on Wednesday night at 7 at SNHU.

“I like the pressure situations, I feel like that’s where I excel more,” Morrill said. “A 3-and-1 count, I knew it had to come to me, I knew there was going to be a strike there.”

The victory avenged two straight Concord seasons that came to an end at the hands of the Broncos (12-8), in the championship in 2011 and in the quarterfinals last year.

“I think we were due,” Concord Coach Duke Sawyer said. “They were the higher seed the last couple years and this year we were the higher seed. There was a little extra incentive there just because they did knock us out the last two years.”

From the early innings yesterday, this one had the makings of an instant classic. The teams traded runs in the middle innings, and with the game on the line late, both Concord and Alvirne threw the leather around Memorial Field.

“I’ve never been in a game that intense. Everyone played amazing,” Concord catcher Jasmine Morin said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better game from both teams. Alvirne played great, and both teams had really great defensive plays.”

Concord second baseman Deb Morrill made a sliding catch in the third, a running snag in shallow center in the fifth and another running grab in foul ground in the eighth. Shortstop Amy Morin made a backhanded catch on a flare toward left in the seventh. Left fielder Molly Emerson made a sliding catch on a shallow fly in the eighth. And Jasmine Morin blocked several pitches in the dirt with a runner at third.

“They made some amazing plays, some nasty catches,” Dani Morrill said.

Alvirne got in on the act with shortstop Kaycee Carbone cutting down hit after hit headed up the middle and calmly firing to first for the out. Center fielder Mikayla Polowsky came up with a sliding catch on a sinking line drive in the seventh, and tracked backward in the eighth to pull in a deep fly.

Concord struck first, scoring a single run in the third. Cassidy Emerson singled to right, then one out later took third when Deb Morrill laid down a bunt single and the throw briefly eluded the first baseman. Morrill stole second, and after the second out, Emerson scored when Kennard hit a hard shot to the shortstop hole that Carbone knocked down but couldn’t turn into an out.

Alvirne answered right back with its two runs in the top of the fourth. Carbone reached on an infield hit and took second when the throw sailed past first. Jenna Gianelli then blasted a triple to deep right-center to tie the game. Chelsey Drew (3-for-4, triple) reached on an infield hit, then Brooke Kennedy singled up the middle to give the Broncos the lead and chase Kennard.

Enter Morrill, who quickly recorded three outs on a sacrifice bunt, a strikeout and a pop-up.

“I wish we could clone her. She’s just a good ballplayer. She just does the job time and time again,” Sawyer said. “I hate to put the pressure on her like that, put her in with two people on and nobody out, but she’s just proved to me time and time again that I should be comfortable putting her in those situations.”

“Danielle just comes in and throws her junk and it just happens,” Jasmine Morin said. “She just does what she has to do, and she does that every time.”

Concord wasted no time pulling back even in the home half of the inning. Amy Morin singled up the middle, Dani Morrill laid down a bunt single, and Isabel Stoddard, running for Morin, stole third and came home on a wild pitch from Meg Rediweicz (7 2∕3 innings, nine hits, two earned runs, two strikeouts, one walk).

From there, it was three scoreless innings to set up the walk-off dramatics.

“We want to get back. We want to be in the finals,” said Jasmine Morin, who was part of the Tide’s 2011 runner-up team. “… Especially being on the team for four years, I want to win so bad. And I think we have a chance.”

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

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