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One final step to greatness

DIVISION II SEMIFINALS: #2 ConVal 6, #3 Hollis/Brookline 5

  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The ConVal softball team defeated Hollis/Brookline 6-5 in the Division II semifinals on Tuesday, June 4, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

It had 2012 written all over it.

The scenario was the same. The winner of Tuesday’s Division II semifinal contest would advance to Saturday’s title game. The losing team’s season would be over.

The field was the same, as was the inning. And the opposing team’s rally looked to be heading in the same direction.

But this was not 2012. This year’s ConVal softball team made sure there was no repeat performance of the Final Four collapse against Kennett last June.

This was 2013. The opponent was different and so was the result.

When Hollis/Brookline plated four runs in the top of the seventh on Tuesday to make it a one-run game, the second seeded Cougars did not panic like a year ago. They regrouped, got the final two outs and cemented their spot in the state championship game — the first appearance in program history – with a 6-5 victory over the Cavaliers at Southern New Hampshire University.

“I expected to be in the semis, but did I think it was going to be easy? No,” said coach Jim Coppo. “But our girls had a goal and they weren’t going to be denied.”

The reason it did not turn out like 2012 is because of a group of five seniors who remember exactly what last year’s heartbreaking loss to Kennett felt like — when ConVal blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the seventh — and were determined to take the next step. The entire team except for two players came back this year and did not want to go home one step short again.

“We came ready. We have five seniors that don’t want it to end and they’re doing everything they can to make sure this run doesn’t stop,” said sophomore third baseman JoEllen Racicot.

But there is a final stop on this train ride that Coppo keeps talking about. The most important one in this special journey. And it is set to arrive at the station on Saturday at 7 p.m. against No. 1 Coe-Brown in the Division II finals.

ConVal, who was the only team returning from last year’s semifinals, was one strike away from being in this position last year. And for the last 12 months, it has been used as motivation to make sure it did not happen again.

Coppo will tell you he saw his team returning to the Final Four for the third time in his career. He knew this team was capable of big things.

So when Hollis/Brookline starting pitcher Ashley Skey crushed a three-run home run off ConVal junior ace Courtney Fisher to make it 6-5 with one out in the top of the seventh, there was still a confidence the Cougars could get out of the jam. They had all year.

“It was pretty similar,” said senior Marena Brock of last year. “A little stressful, but I had full confidence in Courtney and our team. We’ve been in some pretty tight situations this year so having that happen, it just makes us stronger as a team.”

Fisher induced a groundout to junior Bryanna Lindsay at shortstop, who was only there because senior captain Lauren Mackey had to leave the game with a right ankle injury suffered during a three-run bottom of the sixth that put ConVal ahead by five — runs that the Cougars would need. Fisher then struck out Lori Lavey on a full count for her eighth punch out to end the game.

“Last year we crumpled, but this year we weren’t going to let it go. We fought for those last couple outs because we wanted it,” said Racicot.

The Cougars never trailed. They took a 2-0 lead in the first and were in complete control the rest of the way.

Brock earned a two-out walk after crushing a pair of foul balls, one that hit the left field fence and one that went over. Mackey followed with a single and so did Fisher to score Brock. An error by Lavey at second allowed ConVal’s second run to score and it would be the first of many miscues for the Cavaliers.

Fisher retired the first seven batters before a hit and error with one out in the third put two Cavaliers in scoring position. But Fisher struck out Hollis/Brookline’s leadoff hitter Charli Bradshaw and caused Celeste Marsan to foul bunt a third strike to end the threat.

“We just have confidence that we’re going to play good,” said Fisher.

Two errors to begin the third gave ConVal a 3-0 lead, but they could not add to the lead despite having second and third with no outs.

In the fifth, the Cavaliers finally got to Fisher thanks to a two-out error and two singles.

And despite seven Cavalier errors in the first five innings combined with five hits, ConVal could only manage three runs and had just a two-run lead going into the last of the sixth.

“We know we needed to capitalize a little better and we didn’t, but to these kids credit, it doesn’t matter now because we’re going to the finals,” said Coppo.

Maxine Dunn led off the sixth with a single and Racicot followed with the same. Sasha Brock moved them both over with a bunt and Marena Brock’s base hit to left made it 4-1. Mackey singled to score Racicot and Fisher hit a liner to center for the 6-1 advantage. On Fisher’s hit, Mackey held up and then in an effort to beat the throw, she rolled her ankle on the slide into second.

“I was a little bit late. I was trying to slide through and the base just didn’t move and my ankle did,” said Mackey.

But she does not plan on missing the final game of her high school career.

“I’m going to be playing,” said Mackey. “100 percent I’ll be playing.”

The Cavaliers’ seventh began with a ConVal error, the third of the game, and a bunt single to third put runners on the corners. After a strikeout, Sarah Drazin, who hit two home runs in the regular season meeting won by Hollis/Brookline 2-1 and also launched one foul over the left field fence in the fifth, singled home a run to cut the ConVal lead to four. Skey followed with her three-run shot.

“Obviously there were some nerves and it was a little scary, but luckily we had put on those insurance runs,” said senior Ana Hautanen. “We made the plays when we had to.”

There was no way this year’s ConVal team would let it happen again. They were prepared for any situation. This is where the experience of eight games decided by two runs or less came into play.

“They’re huge now,” said Coppo. “They knew what was on the line and they weren’t going to be denied.”

This is what happens when there is a group that refuses to let anyone stand in their way. Hollis/Brookline was one of only three teams to defeat the Cougars in the regular season, but that did not matter. There was more on the line this time

The goal was to get to the championship game and ConVal has done just that. There is just one thing left to do. Defeat Coe-Brown on Saturday and finish the train ride off with a state title.

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