Softball season recap: Concord takes home Division I championship; Coe-Brown repeats as D-II champs

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 06-13-2023 11:18 PM

No ending to the 2023 season would’ve been satisfying to the Concord High softball team unless it involved a championship plaque, and that’s exactly what the Crimson Tide earned. After taking down No. 3 Winnacunnet in Saturday’s Division I championship game, Concord rebounded from championship losses in 2021 and 2022 for the program’s seventh title.

Led by stalwarts Maddy Wachter and Sarah Taylor in the circle, along with elite defense – especially from shortstop Brooke Wyatt and left fielder Kennedy Craigue – and the leadership of catcher Delaney Duford, the Tide finished the season 20-1 with a run differential of plus-180.

“They were pretty determined,” head coach Duke Sawyer said after the championship win. “Nothing I could say would motivate them more than the last two years being here (and losing).”

Saturday marked the end to the careers of four Tide seniors: Craigue, Olivia Crawford, Kryslin Stearns and Savanna Anderson.

With Wachter, Taylor, Duford and Wyatt all returning in 2024, it’s likely Concord will once again contend for a D-I title.

“We just all love the game so much, and we just have so much fun together,” Wachter said on Saturday. “Everyone wants to be competitive. Everyone’s trying their best. It’s an amazing group of girls.”

In Division II, Coe-Brown successfully defended its 2022 title with a 5-1 win over previously unbeaten Kingswood in the championship game.

Madison DeCota shut down the Knights’ offense which entered Saturday averaging nearly eight runs per game. Such was the theme throughout the season for Coe-Brown.

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“She’s just a gamer and a winner. She refuses to lose,” head coach Dave Allis said after DeCota helped lead the Bears past John Stark in the semifinals. “Everything she does is just 100%. She’s just so good. I’m going to miss her.”

In addition to DeCota, the Bears graduate four seniors: Emma Broadstone, Audrey Perron, Hailey Pruett and Courtney Thomas. Thomas belted a three-run homer to seal Coe-Brown’s victory in the final.

John Stark hoped to have a shot at avenging last year’s championship game loss but came up short in the semifinal against the Bears.

The Generals finished the season 14-4 with that 5-3 loss, their second two-run loss to Coe-Brown this season. If not for a few defensive miscues, head coach Denis Kolehmainen said his team would’ve had a far better chance to win.

“We were 14-4 this season, and really all four (losses), we gave the victories away with errors,” he said after the loss. “I thought we had a good shot this year. Our bats were hot. We don’t strike out a lot. We keep the ball in play. We hit it hard, (but) we just hit it right at people today.”

Olivia Hargreaves’ career comes to an end after totaling 497 strikeouts across her three seasons at John Stark. Along with Ruby Dykstra, Aubrey Fischer and Emily Fredette, the senior class leaves behind a strong roster that hopes to get back to the D-II championship in 2024.

Merrimack Valley turned in a solid 2023 but was bitten by the injury bug at the most inopportune time. Over the final few weeks of the season, the Pride lost Caydence Allberg to a broken leg, Olivia Seeley to a concussion and Liv Lacasse – MV’s top pitcher – after taking a line drive off her left leg in the team’s first-round playoff matchup with Sanborn on May 31 that forced her to exit a game the Pride lost, 9-2.

Still, a 10-7 season is no reason for disappointment. And the Pride’s four-player senior class (Lacasse, Emily Kelly, Anna Herrmann and Kalee Keyser) concludes a highly successful three-year stretch under head coach Kevin O’Brien.

“Certainly you want to go further, you want to win a state title, you want to play in the semis,” O’Brien said after the Sanborn loss. “But if you look back on your high school career in a three-year period of time and you went 38-13, I think you’d be pretty happy – at least you were happy 38 times.”

Similar to MV, Bow’s season also came to an end in the first round of the playoffs – a 4-3 loss to ConVal – to wrap up the Falcons’ season 10-7. Bow entered the playoffs on a hot stretch, having won nine of the final 13 games of the regular season, but couldn’t pull out a second win over the Cougars.

Head coach Jen Boyden loses four seniors, including Division II Player of the Year Hannah McGonigle, who will continue her softball career at the University at Buffalo next year. But Boyden remains optimistic about the future of the program with 11 potential freshmen joining the team next year.

“I think across the division, the 2023 class has been incredibly strong: a lot of great pitchers, a lot of great, smart defenders. And I think a lot of us are going to be fighting next year,” Boyden said after the ConVal loss. “But there is some excitement here because we have so many numbers coming in, so the future is bright.”

The final area D-II team, Pembroke, also qualified for the postseason as the 11th seed and lost to Campbell, 10-0, in the first round to finish the season 8-9. It was a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for the Spartans, who won seven games by six or more runs but also lost seven games by at least eight runs.

While the offense generally performed well enough – Pembroke averaged nearly 7.4 runs per game – the defense and pitching were too inconsistent for the team to make a deeper run in the playoffs.

“We’ve given up a lot of unearned runs,” head coach John Manni said after the Spartans beat Bow, 12-3, to close out the regular season. “We got cracked by a couple of teams, like Coe-Brown and Kingswood, who clearly have better talent than us. If we play D, we’re usually in every game.”

In Division III, Hopkinton made a surprise run to the semifinals, where the Hawks lost, 8-1, against No. 1 Prospect Mountain.

Spearheaded by eight juniors and seniors and a seven-player freshmen class, head coach Dan Meserve received contributions up and down his lineup all season. Much of it came as a pleasant surprise.

“I really wasn’t sure how we were going to be and where we were going to end up,” Meserve said after the loss to Prospect Mountain. “I thought we’d be .500 to be honest. But the freshmen really stepped up and played well.”

Those freshmen will gain even more opportunities next season, as the Hawks bid farewell to five seniors: Sammi Goldblatt, Maddie Carmichael, Beth Taylor, Kyanna Landry and Lexi Lawler.

If 2023 was any indication, there should be many more positives to come in the future for Hopkinton softball.

“Overall, I’m thrilled,” Meserve said. “It was a great season.”

Bishop Brady’s season came to an end just barely missing out on the D-III playoffs, finishing 6-10, a half-game behind Monadnock for the 13th and final spot.

A four-game losing streak to close out the season doomed the Giants’ chances, but the program still has a few players to build around for the foreseeable future.

“Our catcher’s just phenomenal behind the plate. Ava (Archambault), she’s a freshman,” head coach Shane Baron said after the Giants lost to Hopkinton on May 3. “And then you add Abigail (Tyrell), the shortstop, another freshman.”

Meanwhile, Belmont (6-10), Hillsboro-Deering (5-11) and Winnisquam (1-15) all missed out on the playoffs in D-III as well.

Though the Red Raiders ended the season winning three of their final five games, a 3-8 start to the season put them in a tough hole to dig out of. Hillsboro-Deering ended the season on a six-game losing streak, and Winnisquam’s only win of the season came against Mascoma on May 18.

In Division IV, Pittsfield reached the playoffs as the division’s fourth seed but was upset by No. 13 Epping in the first round. It was the third time this season Pittsfield played Epping after having won the first two games, albeit narrowly (9-6 and 6-5).

The Panthers wrapped up their season 13-4.

Finally, Franklin finished the season 4-12. The Golden Tornadoes struggled mightily in the circle, allowing an average of 14.7 runs per game.

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