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It’s all about team for Concord softball

‘We’re up!” Deb Morrill called across the dugout to Annie Mullen as the Concord High softball team began batting practice on Thursday.

It’s a joke between the interchangeable lefties at the top of the order, that they’re one and the same player. But the “we” instead of “I” is no joke on this team that makes “total team effort” fact rather than cliché.

“We’re so balanced,” said Concord Coach Duke Sawyer, whose team plays for the state championship today at 4:30 p.m. at SNHU. “The big four – baserunning, defense, offense, pitching – one section doesn’t have to carry the other. They all have to work for us to be successful.”

Crimson Tide champions of the past have had their superstars. The 2009 champs had Division I college players Hilary Kane and Paige Hansen. The 2005 champs had Brady Benton and Danielle Cooper. And the dynasty of 1994-96 had star power aplenty with the likes of Tara Mounsey, Lisa Petell, Becky Craigue, Nicole Sawyer and Jamie Sawyer.

This year’s edition has no supernova, but it sparkles nonetheless.

“The first game (a 2-0 shutout of Manchester Central), it was like a semifinal game. I knew we had something then,” said Katie Kennard, one of six seniors this season. “It’s our depth and what each player can do.”

Kennard, a four-year starter, was one of two standouts in that season opener, throwing a two-hit shutout, while Molly Emerson homered in her first varsity game. Since then, it’s been a different player or players stepping up nearly every game.

It was Jess Carroll with a 3-for-3, two-RBI performance in the semifinals, Dani Morrill with the walk-off game-winning hit and five innings of shutout relief in the quarterfinals, Rachel Stevenson going 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI in the first round.

There was the four-run, last-inning rally on senior night against Dover to lock up the top seed in the tournament, when the first six batters (started by the bottom of the order) all reached safely. The program-record 21-hit outing against Nashua South, when 13 players had at least one hit. The blankings of both Londonderry and Pinkerton, when all three of Concord’s pitchers – Kennard, Dani Morrill and Kaitlyn Kelleher – combined in the circle for the shutouts.

The trio of twirlers has been key to the Tide’s success. Concord has just four complete games this season, opting to keep opponents off-balance by changing pitchers mid-game. Kennard (12-1) has the majority of the decisions, but Morrill (4-0) and Kelleher (3-1) have combined for five saves, giving each other a big pick-me-up when needed.

“It’s the way we work together and support everyone no matter what,” senior Kelsey Bisson said when asked what makes this team so special.

“Coming in I didn’t know we’d be as good as we are,” said co-captain Amy Morin, the starting shortstop. “We’d lost a few good players, but the new players were better than I expected, much better.”

New players like Deb Morrill, who’s hitting .370 with a team-leading 23 runs scored, Katherine Muzzey, the consummate role player with 20 runs scored and a .429 average, and Delanie Pickering, a sparkplug behind the plate (throwing out 50 percent of attempted steals) as the back-up to four-year starter Jasmine Morin.

And returners taking on starting roles for the first time, like Meaghan Littlejohns, with a .361 average and a gun at third base. And a starting outfield that Coach Sawyer has called the best in the state from Day 1, with Mullen and the Emerson twins – Molly and Cassidy. And JV call-ups Isabel Stoddard and Emily Redlon.

No matter what’s needed, there’s a player to fit the bill, because in the end, the only stat that matters to Concord is wins.

It’s a confidence that has built from Day 1. Carroll said she knew there was something special from the first practice. For others it was that opening win over Central. And for others it was confirmed with a string of late-season wins against some of the top teams.

“Beating Dover or Saturday (against Alvirne in the quarterfinals),” Dani Morrill said. “I knew we had (what it takes) all along, but that’s when it really hit.”

A combination of talent, hard work and chemistry has gotten the Tide to this point, but don’t discount the fun.

“It’s the most diverse team I’ve ever had,” co-captain Jasmine Morin said. “We’re loose. It’s very fun, a good atmosphere. All four years I’ve played, this is the loosest team we’ve had.”

“Look at the ’04 Red Sox. It helps that they’re loose up there, they play loose,” Sawyer said. “I like their personalities to show.”

It’s a team where no one’s immune from ribbing, coach included, but also a team that embraces each other’s success.

“Out of all the teams I’ve been on, this is the closest,” said Carroll, a three-sport athlete. “It’s rare that you can call all your teammates friends, and this team has that.”

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

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