Published Date Written by Lloyd JonesMANCHESTER — "If someone would have said in March you're going to be in the finals and the score is going to be 1-0 I'd have said you're nuts," Peter Ames, head softball coach for Kennett High said after his team came up just short in the Division II State Championship game Saturday at Southern New Hampshire University with the Eagles falling to Portsmouth 1-0.
There was good reason for Coach Ames to dismiss such a prediction. After all, he had two new pitchers with little to no varsity experience; graduated seven seniors from the previous year; had six new positions to field on the team. A title run appeared to be the last thing within the Eagles grasp. It might be a rebuilding year.
Funny, no one told this collection of ball players and never did the acronym TEAM — Together Everyone Achieves More — fit. The Eagles checked their egos at the field and everyone banded together pulling for one another and game by game the Kennett squad got better and better.
Sadly the girls from Conway came out on the wrong end of the scoreboard Saturday, but they gave it everything they had and the game came right down to the final out.
Portsmouth, behind another strong pitching effort from All State senior Mariah Crisp, kept Kennett's potent bats in check for most of the afternoon. Crisp shut the Eagles out 4-0 on April 20 and Coach Ames was convinced things would be different this time around.
"I thought we would get to her,'" he said, "especially the second time through the order (on Saturday), but it just didn't happen. She's a very good pitcher and Portsmouth didn't make any mistakes. Even when we came up in the bottom of the seventh I thought we'd score, it didn't work out though."
The Clippers scored the lone run in the top of the seventh. With the bottom third of the Portsmouth lineup due up to start the seventh, Sarah Winchell led off and reached on an infield error. She stole second and went to third on a somewhat controversial passed ball. It looked for all the world that Crisp fouled off the pitch that went to backstop on her hands, but the umpire said no.
"It looked like it was a foul from where I was," Ames said.
With two strikes, Crisp hit a bloop single to right just out of the reach of infielder's Lauren White and Sam Janos, who were playing in, and Gwynn McGinley who was hard charging on the play from right-field.
"The bloop hit, there was really nothing you could do about that," Ames said. "We had to play the infield in to try to cut the run down at home. I'm not sure if they had been playing back if we'd have had a shot at it, it just fell in the wrong spot."
The Clippers managed to load the bases with one out, but the Eagles ended the threat with a pop-up to sophomore pitcher Vonde Saunders, who threw a terrific game; and then a grounder to Saunders that she fielded and threw to White to end the inning.
It was rally time for the Eagles, who had been held to just one hit going into the bottom of the seventh. Faye Roberts ripped a 1-1 pitch into the left-center gap for a double to bring KHS fans to their feet.
White followed and popped out to the shortstop. Jordyn Moore popped out to second on a 3-1 pitch for the second out. Roberts went to third on a passed ball putting the tying run just 60 feet away.
Senior Ashley Smith worked Crisp, who will pitch for Keene State next year, for just the second KHS walk of the afternoon and was replaced by pinch runner Rachel Samia, who stole second immediately on the first pitch to Janos to put the winning run on second. Janos had hit the ball on the nose all afternoon. She had Kennett's lone hit going into the seventh with a sharp single to right-field in the second inning. In the fifth frame she drew the play of the day from Winchell in center-field with a diving catch just in front of the warning track that had extra bases written all of it.
With the count 2-2, Janos fouled off back-to-back pitches. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat she sent a fly ball to right-field that Molly Schoer camped under and pulled it in to seal the Clipper's victory. A couple of feet to either side of the outfielder and Kennett would have been celebrating its fifth state title.
"The story was we didn't hit," Ames said. "To think that Kaylin (Samia), Faye, Lauren and Jordyn would have just one hit between them is surprising to me. All year long we've hit and driven in the big run when we needed it.
"....The finals really didn't play out in any way how I thought it would," he continued. "A 1-0 game with us losing, it never entered my head. ...They got good pitching and we got good pitching. Vonde did a great job. She didn't walk anyone and held them to just the one run (she struck out the Clipper's two, four and five hitters in the third inning). If we don't score a run we're not going to win anyway. You've got to get the hit at the right time, we'd done that all season, but unfortunately that streak ran out in the last inning of the last game."
Statistically, Portsmouth had six hits, no errors; Crisp: 1-2, one RBI; Victoria Griggs, 1-4; Molly Shoer, 1-4; Phoebe Collins, 1-4; Christina Jones, 1-4; Winchell, 1-2, one run. Pitching: Crisp (W): seven innings, two hits, zero runs, two walks, six strikeouts, 25 batters faced.
Kennett: two hits, four errors; Roberts, 1-3; Janos, 1-3. Pitching: Saunders (L): seven innings, six hits, one run (zero earned), zero walks, three strikeouts, one hit batter, 31 batters faced.
The Eagles are now 4-2 in championship games, having fallen by a run in the 2010 and 2012 finals.
"It's always disappointing to lose but it's satisfying to get there," Ames said. "It was quite a last couple of days. The semi's were about as exciting as it can get and then this is the other end of the spectrum. It's the nature of sports to get to experience both ends of the scale within a couple of days. It's hard to put things in perspective when you finish up 16-5 from where we started. The kids were relatively inexperienced; we had the new pitching (Saunders and junior Shelby Hill); and we had a bunch of people playing different positions. We had to work for every win and I think that's a credit to our kids, they never took anything for granted. This group performed better than I ever expected; we certainly had a good year."
The Eagles are: seniors Sam Janos, Faye Roberts and Ashley Smith; juniors Shelby Hill, Jordyn Moore, Jordan Murphy, Alyssa Tetreault, and Lauren White; sophomores Kaylin Samia, Rachel Samia and Vonde Saunders; and freshmen Gwynn McGinley, Erin Milford and Amelya Saras.
"The seniors I thought did a great job all season," Ames said. "People will say you're only losing three seniors, well they're a pretty special group. It doesn't seem like we lose much but they were pretty critical. ...We have a good nucleus coming back. We've got some power and some speed along with both our pitchers. Our task will be to work to get better and come back next year even hungrier (for success)."