Concord softball wins it all for the first time since 2018
|Published: 06-11-2023 11:34 AM
PLYMOUTH – Kennedy Craigue had already started running in from left field to celebrate.
No. 1 Concord (20-1) led 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning in Saturday’s Division I softball championship game against No. 3 Winnacunnet (18-4). The Warriors’ leadoff hitter that inning, Maeva Shapiro, had walked to put the tying run on first. Then with two outs, Cayleigh Adams grounded to short.
Craigue – and the rest of her teammates – had no doubt that Brooke Wyatt would make the play, like she had all year. She fielded the ball, gathered and fired to first. Game over. Championship secured. Finally.
In the Tide’s third straight championship game appearance after losses in 2021 and 2022, it finally cleared the hurdle with a 3-2 win against the only team to have beaten it this season.
For Craigue, one of the four seniors on the team, it was a moment four years in the making.
“It almost feels like a relief,” she said with an exhale. “We finally did it.”
The two teams remained locked in a scoreless tie through the first inning, then the second, then the third, then the forth.
Concord put runners on base in the first and second innings but couldn’t get the big hit, while Winnacunnet went 12 up, 12 down against Maddy Wachter, a week after her perfect game against No. 9 Timberlane.
Then in the fifth, lightning struck for the Tide. With two outs in the top of the inning, Wachter’s perfect game appeared to be over when Adams lined a ball to right field. But Tide sophomore Andie Moreira fielded it on a hop and fired a missile to first to record the out and preserve perfection.
In the bottom of the inning, after Winnacunnet’s Madeline Eaton retired the first two Tide hitters, Olivia Crawford reached on a bunt single, Delaney Duford lined a single to left and Moreira grounded a ball to first that rolled right through the legs of Fenway Shouller, allowing Crawford to score to give the Tide a 1-0 lead. Then, Sarah Taylor cracked a two-run double to right-center field, and Concord had a 3-0 advantage.
The Warriors responded in the top of the sixth. After Craigue laid out for a diving catch in left field for the second out of the inning, Wachter allowed a single, a walk and threw a wild pitch that allowed both Warrior runners to score to make it 3-2. But that was the closest Winnacunnet would come.
After the heartbreak of last year’s eighth-inning loss to Exeter on the heels of a loss to Salem in 2021, the Tide entered the 2023 season on a mission to finish the job. Under the partially cloudy skies at Chase Field at Plymouth State University on Saturday evening, it was all sunshine and rainbows for Concord.
“Even though we’ve had a few downs, like losing two years before this, we (now) have the highest of the high that we could have,” Wachter said. “I’m just going to remember this feeling and these smiling faces that all these girls have.”
Though Wachter wasn’t quite perfect in the circle on Saturday, she was awfully close. In a seven-inning complete game, she allowed two runs on one hit with two walks and 10 strikeouts.
“It’s just amazing to watch her do her thing,” said Taylor, who played third base after starting in the circle in Tuesday’s semifinal. “She’s so confident out there, and she has a mission, and she’s going to complete it. When things got shaky today, her composure was the exact same, so that was special to see.”
Initially, head coach Duke Sawyer said, his plan was the inverse of what he employed against Salem on Tuesday; Wachter would throw five innings and Taylor would come in for the final two. But with Wachter not having allowed a baserunner, he had no choice but to leave her in.
The junior right hander certainly vindicated that decision and helped deliver Sawyer his fourth championship since he took over the program in 2001.
“It is special,” he said. “We had nine players on the team from last year. Five from the team from the year before. This is our third straight trip here, so yeah, there’s no doubt that this is special.”
As Sawyer reflected back on this season, one word came to mind that explained why his team finally got over the hump: defense.
Before the season even started, he mentioned that defense often turns out to be the difference, especially in playoff games between two evenly-matched opponents. In 21 games this year, the Tide committed just eight errors.
“We fell short the last couple years defensively when it really mattered,” Sawyer said. “This year, they didn’t. This is just a great defensive team.”
That last play of the game – the ground ball to Wyatt – showcased that.
“We had just moved Brooke over a little bit based on the hitter, and it was right to her, and I knew she was going to make the play all along,” said Duford, the catcher. “It was an unbelievable play, unbelievable game. Looking forward to next year. We’ll hope to be back here again.”
In the meantime, though, Concord can savor this championship, with this team that possessed unbreakable bonds both on the field and off of it.
“We just all love the game so much, and we just have so much fun together,” Wachter said. “Everyone wants to be competitive. Everyone’s trying their best. It’s an amazing group of girls.”
And what better way to celebrate than how the Tide celebrated each of its previous eight road wins: blasting music and singing on the bus.
As for the postgame playlist, Taylor predicted what song would come first.
“Probably ‘We Are The Champions.’”