Softball: Concord ends season with championship loss to Exeter

  • Concord’s senior captain Elizabeth Blinn (middle) leaves the field after Exeter scored the winning run in the Division I softball championship. The Crimson Tide lost 1-0 to the Blue Hawks in extra innings on Saturday. MATT PARKER / Monitor staff

  • Olivia Crawford (right) celebrates after Kyleigh Gray (left) made an impressive catch in center field for the final out in the third inning in the Division I softball championship. Concord lost 1-0 in extra innings to Exeter on Saturday. MATT PARKER / Monitor staff

  • Olivia Crawford takes her helmet off after she was thrown out at first base during the Division I softball championship. Concord lost 1-0 to Exeter in extra innings on Saturday. MATT PARKER / Monitor staff

  • Elizabeth Blinn stands on third base after she hit a triple in the top of the eighth inning in the Division I softball championship. Concord lost 1-0 to Exeter in extra innings on Saturday. MATT PARKER / Monitor staff

 Monitor staff
Published: 6/12/2022 6:49:59 PM
Modified: 6/12/2022 6:47:41 PM

PLYMOUTH — This game was the only game that mattered all season long for Concord.

It’s what the winter throwing sessions in the gym were geared toward. It’s what the early morning and late-night batting practices were purposed toward. It’s what all the bus rides and after-school bonding sessions were made for.

The Crimson Tide’s sole purpose this season was to make it back to the Division I championship game and win it. They weren’t afraid to talk about it throughout the season because they didn’t believe in jinxes. And they accomplished one of those goals when they played No. 1 Exeter at DM Field for the crown.

No. 2 Concord fell short, however, in completing its primary mission as it lost 1-0 to the No. 1 Blue Hawks in extra innings.

In the aftermath of its semifinal win against Londonderry, Concord hoped it would play Exeter for the championship. The Blue Hawks (20-1) were the only team that beat the Tide (19-2) in the regular season after a walk-off grand slam in a 4-3 decision in the regular-season finale.

And throughout the championship rematch, fans from the capital and the seacoast were entertained with a high-stakes, back-and-forth game that will be talked about for years to come.

It was mostly a pitcher’s duel between Concord ace Maddy Wachter and New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year star Kristen Beebe for Exeter.

Beebe retired all three of the Tide’s batters in the top of the first and Wachter, after the Blue Hawks’ lead-off hitter Annie Christiana collected a single, struck out the next two and a fly out to center field captured the third out.

Both offenses found themselves with opportunities to strike throughout the game. Concord ended its frame of the second inning with runners on second and third as Brooke Wyatt was hit by a pitch and then Grace MacDonald hit the ball into shallow right field for a double.

Exeter in the bottom of the third also had runners stranded on second and third but ended the inning on an impressively-caught fly ball by center fielder Kyleigh Gray.

As the pitch count added up, Concord skipper called on Sarah Taylor for the third time in these playoffs in relief for Wachter (five innings pitched, six strikeouts, no earned runs, one walk, two hits) in the sixth inning. Taylor coolly retired the first three batters she saw and sent the game into its final inning of regulation.

Both teams threatened with scoring chances in the seventh. Delaney Duford was walked and then stole second for Concord as two outs hung on the scoreboard but a ground ball hit to Beebe set up the easy out at first. Exeter went through five batters and had runners on second and third before Taylor struck out Dejah Rondeau for the final out as the game headed toward extras.

After a fly-out in right field, the Tide’s senior captain and first baseman Elizabeth Blinn smacked the ball into deep center field for a triple but they couldn’t capitalize on her hit and sent it to Exeter with the game still scoreless.

The Blue Hawks took six hitters this time and with bases loaded, they walked it off for the second time against the Tide this season with a line drive that sent Avery Allard home for the deciding run.

“We gave it everything we had and we had our chances,” Concord coach Duke Sawyer said. “We just couldn’t get that one hit that we’ve got most of the season.”

“We were working for this all year long, this was our goal to get here and it was our goal to also win it, and we didn’t do it. It’s going to be tough.”

This is the second consecutive season where the Tide ended the season as Division I runners-up after a 5-1 loss to Salem in last season’s championship game. Sawyer wasn’t shy to say that while the players returning next year – that includes pitching duo Wachter and Taylor – there will be some key players to replace as five seniors graduate in Blinn, Gray, MacDonald, Quincy Bolduc and Libby Brown.

If last season’s championship loss, where Concord throughout this season felt didn’t represent the talent it had, was a driving force for success in 2022, expect its game against Exeter to heighten its quest for the vaunted seventh title in program history.

It’ll certainly feel like a long offseason yet again for the Tide, but even in a loss, there are benefits according to Sawyer.

“They’re hard workers and they play all year round,” he said. “Hopefully it makes them just work even harder and we can get that much closer.”

There’s roughly a year between the 2022 championship and the 2023 bout, but for the Tide, the work starts now.

Much like it did a year ago.

Matt Parker bio photo

Matt Parker is a sports reporter at the Monitor and started in August 2021. He is an Ohio native and relishes being from the Buckeye state. A proud graduate of Ohio University located in Athens, Ohio, he served as the sports editor for the student-run newspaper, The Post, from 2019-20. When not at a game or chasing around a coach, you can catch him playing his guitars or looking for the next Peanuts memorabilia piece to add in his growing collection.

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