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Different year, same disappointing finish

  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)
  • The Conant softball team lost 4-0 to Farmington in the Division III quarterfinals on Monday, June 3, 2013.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Tim Goodwin)

I thought for sure this was the year.

There was no question in my mind that this Conant softball team’s end result would be different. The playoff struggles and disappointments would not continue this June.

After earning the No. 4 seed and the right for two home playoff games, the road to the Division III Final Four looked like one the Orioles were destined to travel. They cruised to a 13-2 win over Bishop Brady in the preliminary round and had the chance for some pay back for last year’s first round home defeat to Farmington.

Conant had edged Farmington for the fourth spot thanks to one less game and one less loss. Both teams had 15 wins entering Monday’s Division III quarterfinal match-up, but it was the Tigers who left with 16 and a spot in Wednesday’s semifinals.

All the Orioles had was another early playoff exit and an offseason filled with thoughts of what could have been.

The goal was to make a run at the D-III state title. But Conant came up a few games short, which is becoming an unfortunate trend in recent playoff appearances.

For the fifth year in a row, the Conant offense scored one run or less in the playoffs. Scoring an average of 10 runs a game this season, the Orioles ranked near the top of Division III in runs scored. But on Monday, they could not score even once.

“We just can’t seem to do anything in the playoffs,” said Conant coach Tom Lambert. “I thought we were past all of this, not being able to hit.”

The 4-0 shutout at the hands of Farmington pitcher Jennelle Thompson was just the second time Conant has been held scoreless this season and it could not have come at a worse time.

“We came up swinging pretty good in one game and came out flat in the next,” said Lambert. “We just couldn’t do anything.”

Everything set up in their favor. The Orioles would have two home games before traveling to Plymouth State for the semifinals. And once you get to a neutral site, anything can happen. Conant just didn’t quite get there.

Over seven innings, Thompson held the Orioles to just three hits and only three runners reached second base.

“We just didn’t execute,” said Conant senior pitcher Kelsey Smith. “I just think it was one of those days.”

After Farmington scored two in the first, it stayed that way until the fifth. But Conant had a few chances. There was a runner at second in the second with two outs and sophomore Katie Chadbourne was stranded at third following a two-out triple in the third.

The Orioles just could not get the big hit to score a run.

“They were swinging like they were tight. They weren’t following the ball or being aggressive at the plate,” said Lambert. “Someone had to come up with a big hit.”

Smith kept Conant in the game. She retired the side in order in the second and fourth innings, and allowed just an infield hit with two outs in the third. The Tigers added one in the fifth before Conant threatened again in the bottom of the inning when Jenna Sirois doubled with one out and got to third on a wild pitch. But she was left there and the Orioles did not have another base runner the rest of the way.

Conant struck out nine times — well above its season average — and just never found a rhythm against Thompson.

“I don’t know if it was the way she spun the ball or we just hadn’t seen anything like it or we took ourselves completely out of it,” said Smith. “I just think mentally it wasn’t there for our hitting.”

But despite the loss, it was a regular season full of highs and very few lows. The Orioles won five straight to begin the season and were just three outs away from having a single loss if not for a rough seventh inning at ConVal on May 6. Following that 4-3 defeat to the Division II finalist, Conant won seven straight, including the first round of the D-III tournament, and were ready to break through.

It just didn’t happen.

Like I said, I really thought this team had the make-up for a deep playoff run. And I still believe they did. It came down to one off day at the most important time of the season.

“It was a good year; we just can’t seem to get out of the quarterfinals,” said Lambert.

Given another chance, I believe the end result of Monday’s quarterfinal game would be much different. But I guess we will never know.

“We have an incredible amount of talent on this team and an incredible amount of heart,” said Smith. “It just wasn’t our day.”

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