Published Date Written by Lloyd JonesMANCHESTER — Imagine your wildest come-from-behind victory in sports and it may still play second fiddle to what the Kennett High softball team accomplished Wednesday night. Trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning to ConVal in the Division II state semifinals and having been held to just two hits the previous six innings, the girls from Conway found a way to win 5-4 in remarkable fashion.
The Eagles now head to the state finals Saturday in Manchester.
"The game's isn't over until it's over," as Yogi Berra said, and that was never more true than Wednesday.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh and the potent Kennett bats being held in check, things looked promising for the 10th seeded Cougars of ConVal. They were two outs away from pulling off their third straight playoff upset. One problem for the girls from Peterborough — no one told the Eagles this game was over yet.
"It wasn't looking very good," Peter Ames, Eagles' head coach, who is now one win away from his fifth state championship in softball, said. "I really felt like the fifth inning was the key for us. Looking ahead at that point you like to be able to get to the heart of your lineup one more time in the seventh if you can. We were able to work for two walks in the fifth and that meant we'd at least get to two, three and four in our order in the seventh. Even though we'd been held to just two hits, I liked out chances provided we could keep it a two-run game."
Captain Faye Roberts singled up the middle to start the rally. Junior Lauren White followed with a single of her own just out the reach of a diving ConVal shortstop. Roberts advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a ground out to short by Jordyn Moore. It was a 4-3 ball game, two outs and White on second.
"The seventh inning can be the toughest inning to get through," Ames said.
Up stepped sophomore Vonde Saunders. The talented pitcher had had just six at-bats coming into this situation. Senior Ashley Smith has been the team's designated hitter for the pitcher all season. She drew two walks earlier in the game, and pinch runners had been brought in for her twice. The second time signaled the end of her night and left Saunders in the DH spot.
Saunders put up a battle for the ages at the plate. She fouled off three pitches and worked a full count. In doing so there was a wild pitch that sent White to third. Saunders came through in the clutch, singling down the right field line just out out of the reach of the first baseman. White scored, the game was tied and momentum was wearing feathers not fur.
"Vonde had a great at-bat," Ames said. "She fouled off three pitches and just never gave up. It was kind of like the Bill Buckner scenario with the Red Sox when they were one strike away from winning the World Series (in 1986). Vonde hit the ball just out the reach of the first baseman, she dove for it and it deflected off her."
Fellow captain Sam Janos followed with a single to left that moved Saunders to third. Up stepped freshman Gwyn McGinley, who had only a handful of at-bats herself this season. She had entered the game as a substitute and was thrown into the biggest situation of her young Kennett athletic career.
With the count 2-1, there was a pitch low and in the dirt that bounced off the catcher and rolled about 12 feet from the plate. Saunders broke for home immediately, narrowly slid under the tag and the Eagles were victorious. Saunders was mobbed at home plate by her teammates and Kennett faithful were sent into instant celebration.
"Wow" was the only word to describe it even that didn't do it justice.
"I can't ever remember winning a game like we did, certainly not one of this magnitude," Ames said. "It turned out to be a pretty exciting finish.
He added, laughing, "It's funny, you tell kids who don't hit a lot or don't start, you never know when you might be the one in the key situation and that was true with both Vonde and Gwynn. They both did a great job with their at-bats. Gwynn fouled off a pitch before we got the passed ball."
Ames said Saunders had the green light to try to go home on a passed ball or a wild pitch.
"Once we tied it I thought it was a pretty good spot to try to put some pressure on them if we could," he said."
Less than a minute after the winning run scored the sky opened and it poured. Rain washed out the second semifinal between No. 4 Portsmouth and No. 8 Souhegan. That game was moved to Thursday evening. Results were not known as of press time.
Kennett (16-4) will play the winner in the championship game Saturday at 4:30 p.m. at Penmen Field on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester.
ConVal jumped on the scoreboard first on Wednesday night, scoring two runs in the top of the first inning on a two out two-run single by sophomore Courtney Fisher, who had three hits on the day for the Cougars.
The Eagles pulled a run back in their half of the first inning. Jordan Murphy walked and went to third on a single by Kaylin Samia. White knocked in the run with a sacrifice fly to left.
Kennett was able to tie the game in the bottom of the second inning. Smith drew a leadoff walk; Janos, who was bunting, reached on a throwing error at third; and Alyssa Tetreault singled through a drawn in infield to make it 2-2.
Little did anyone know that Kennett would go the next four innings without a hit.
Meanwhile ConVal took the lead in the third frame stringing together three straight two-out singles. The Cougars added what looked like an insurance run in the top of the fifth, but again Kennett minimized the damage.
Junior Shelby Hill went the distance on the mound for the Eagles to collect the win. She scattered 13 hits but while ConVal walked eight, Hill never allowed a single base on balls.
"Shelby did everything we asked her to," Ames said. "This game was really kind of indicative of how we've played all year. We've gotten down early, but found a way to come back, this is such a resilient group. Even in the seventh inning they never gave up, each of them was confident in themselves and their teammates.
"The kids did the things they can do," he continued. "I told our pitchers I don't expect you to strike out 10 kids now that we're in the tournament. The key for us is to throw strikes and make teams get three consecutive hits to score a run."
Kennett did not play Souhegan during the regular season and lost at Portsmouth 4-0 on April 20, a long, long time ago.
"We'd planned to stay three innings and get a look at both teams at least one time through their order, but the rain changed that," Ames said. "We are what we are and we'll let whoever we play worry about us. At this point I think all of the teams are probably different than earlier in the season. We're all playing pretty well.
"It's good to get there (to the finals) again," he continued. "This year's team has played above my expectations. I always expect we are going to win but I probably wouldn't have bet the farm on us getting to the finals this year. We had a bunch of new kids in new positions and brand new pitching. These girls never give up."
Directions to Southern New Hampshire University are: Take I-93S to exit 9N. Drive north on U.S. Route 3/Route 28. At the first intersection, go left onto West Alice Drive, which becomes Donati Drive at the sharp curve. Follow Donati to the end, then go right onto Bicentennial Drive. Follow Bicentennial to the stop sign, then take a right onto North River Road. The university is 1/4 mile on the left.