Wilton-Lyndeborough wins state championship in game of a lifetime for coach Claire

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  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Wilton-Lyndeborough softball team beat Epping 6-5 for the NHIAA Division IV championship on Saturday. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/9/2019 8:59:25 AM

The softball gods weren’t quite done with Denny Claire. The longtime Wilton-Lyndeborough head coach’s final game stretched out nearly into eternity, as the Warriors upset undefeated defending champion Epping 6-5 in 12 innings, snapping the Blue Devils’ 34-game winning streak and giving Claire his eighth state championship. 

“Have you seen a better game than that? I’ve never been in one,” Claire said. “I’ve been in great games, home runs that won the thing, all those games, but this was unbelievable.”

Claire, who plans to retire from coaching with a career record of 504-130, can replay an absolute thriller over and over again in his mind after Saturday’s victory on Plymouth State’s D&M Field. No. 1 Epping (18-1) came into the game on a 34-game win streak dating back to last season, and after the No. 2 Warriors (17-2) watched the Blue Devils demolish Woodsville in the semifinal game Thursday, they knew they had their work cut out for them. 

“Obviously, facing the No. 1 team was going to be a struggle,” said senior catcher Janel Bachand, “but I knew that us being so good and them being so good, it was going to be a battle.”

The marquee mound matchup of Epping’s Division IV Pitcher of the Year Belle Snyder and WLC’s D-IV Player of the Year Lexi Balam left nothing to be desired.

“Those two are just warriors,” said Epping coach Gabe Mosca. “They’re such tremendous athletes.” 

Snyder (9 K, 0 BB) held Wilton-Lyndeborough scoreless through five innings, while Epping put together a run in the first on a Erika McLeod double and a Snyder triple and then scraped another one across in the fourth with an RBI double from Abby Walsh.

Down 2-0 heading into the top of the sixth, the Warriors kept fighting. Bachand (3-6, 2B, 3B, RBI) doubled and scored on a single by Rachel Christino (3-6, 2B, 2 RBI). And down to their last ups in the seventh, Abby Dowling singled, Madison Raymond reached on a popped-up bunt, and Balam (3-6, RBI) drove in the tying run.

“What can I say? They played out of their minds most of the game, and they believed in themselves,” Claire said. “They weren’t intimidated. We practiced for it, we faced some fast pitching yesterday, we did everything we thought we could do, and yet it looked we were gonna get beat until we made that comeback. And after that it got really interesting.”

Balam allowed a one-out triple to Laura Duguie in the eighth, but the Warriors got out of it after intentionally walking the four and five hitters before Balam got a strikeout and a putout. 

Wilton put themselves on the verge of victory in the ninth on singles by Raymond and Balam, an RBI double from Bachand, a sac fly from Christino and an RBI single from Emma Skelly (2-6, RBI) that put the Warriors up 5-2. But Epping had some fight left in them, too.

“You see other teams, you lose the lead in the seventh, or the other team goes ahead in the ninth and they just crumble, but we don’t do that,” Mosca said.

Freshman DH Gracie Re led off the bottom of the ninth with her first career home run and Duguie tripled in two more to tie the game at five. The runner on third and the cleanup hitter Abby Walsh up again, Claire issued two more intentional walks, loading the bases with one out.

“Those bases-loaded situations, I said, how can this happen twice in a game?” Claire said. “We did it. What else could I do? They had their two good hitters, we had to take the chance, and we did.”

Again, the strategy worked, as Balam got out of the inning with no further damage.

Balam, who scored the winning run in WLC’s last championship in 2014, came up huge for the Warriors in her final game, pitching all 12 innings (her pitch count, she joked, was “Too many”), striking out seven and walking none. 

“I think the most I’ve gone is eight or nine, never 12,” Balam said. “I felt it in my arm a little bit. I just knew that it all comes down to this, doesn’t matter what I have to do tomorrow, I needed to give it all I had, so I did.”

The Warriors were finally able to break through for good in the 12th inning, where Christino led off with a double to left. The senior second baseman is no speed demon, but on a Sam Yurcak flyout to center, she tagged and headed for third. As the throw came in, the third baseman prepared to catch and tag, and Christino looked to be out by a mile.

“She got down way earlier than she should have, so I thought the ball was already there, so I was going to turn around and book it,” Christino said. “When I heard the ball hit next to me, I knew I had time.”

The throw was ever so slightly off line, and Christino was safe at third. The next batter, shortstop Brooke Lane (2-6, RBI), poked one into no-man’s-land, and Christino crossed the plate. 

“They won it, we didn’t lose it,” Mosca said of the Warriors. “They had some timely hits. The more they saw Belle, they were starting to put better swings on it.”

Balam closed out the game in the 12th inning, inducing a popup to Skelly at first to end it, and the Warriors were champions yet again, the ninth state title in school history and the eighth for Claire, who hoisted the trophy high in the setting sun.

“I am so excited for him,” Balam said. “He definitely deserves it. Everything that he’s put in for us, this is the least we could for him. I’m so glad to send him off with another win.”

The Warriors and their coach were overcome with emotion as they collected their state champion medals.

“Seeing him cry at the end of the game made me realize we did it,” Bachand said. “Everything we did was for him and I don’t think there’s a better way to go out. We gave him everything and I think he got it.”

“I think he really deserves it after all his coaching experience,” Skelly said. “He’s always thought of the best from this team from day one.”

In a game where the balance seemed to hang on every pitch, every play, every breath, the sheer volume of key plays from every spot on the roster was immeasurable. Sophia Sistachs’ fire hose to home to save a run; Skelly’s tumbling catch in foul ground; Yurcak’s rocket throw from center to third to cut a rally short; Dowling’s initial game-tying run; Raymond’s catch in foul territory to end the ninth; Lane’s game-winning hit and all the rest will live in Wilton-Lyndeborough lore for years to come. 

“Everyone pulled their weight,” Balam said. “Everyone did more than they needed to do, I couldn’t be more proud of everyone. Everyone played fantastic, it was amazing.”


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