Softball: Business-like approach guides Concord to D-I semifinal win over No. 4 Salem

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 06-07-2023 10:30 AM

PLYMOUTH – An 0-1 pitch from Salem’s Ava McNamara sailed in to Delaney Duford, leading off for Concord in the bottom of the first inning on Tuesday night.

Duford’s bat struck the ball as precisely as it could, crushing the pitch deep to left. Its status as a home run was never in doubt. Within the blink of an eye, the No. 1 Tide held a 1-0 lead over No. 4 Salem (17-4) in the D-I semifinal at Plymouth State.

Later that inning, Sarah Taylor singled to left, and Kryslin Stearns drove her home on a triple to right to make it 2-0. That quick start paved the way for Concord’s ultimate 4-0 win and another trip to the D-I championship game on Saturday.

In a semifinal matchup between two teams whose first meeting this season was decided by just two runs, there was an odd absence of ultra-tense moments. Concord (19-1) jumped out to that early 2-0 lead and never truly felt in danger of coughing it up. 

Salem left two runners on base in the second and the fifth but never hit Taylor or Maddy Wachter particularly hard. 

The Tide came to Plymouth laser-focused on winning this game and that business-like approach worked almost flawlessly with one of the most well-rounded performances the team has had all season.

“They just went out there, and they’re playing ball. They love to do it, and they’re doing a great job at it,” head coach Duke Sawyer said. “What a fantastic game. I can’t say enough about that game. The defense, the pitching, the offense, timely hits. It’s perfect softball right there.”

Defensively, several plays stood out. In the top of the second as the Blue Devils threatened with two runners on and two outs, Salem’s Vanessa Ventullo hit a hard ground ball to shortstop that Brooke Wyatt slid to her right to keep in the infield and rifled to first in time for the out. In the third, Brianna Lucacio singled to left, but left fielder Kennedy Craigue threw her out trying to advance to second. The cherry on top came with two outs in the top of the seventh when Craigue dove to her right to rob Jennifer Olson of a base hit and lock up the victory for Concord.

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Taylor started in the circle and tossed five shutout innings, allowing five hits, one walk and striking out eight. Wachter, who pitched a perfect game against No. 9 Timberlane on Saturday, entered in the sixth and took care of business in the final two innings, working around a bunt single and hit batter.

The plan coming into the game, Sawyer said, was to have Wachter ready to go in case a talented Salem lineup started hitting Taylor the third time through the order. Weary of asking Wachter to come in with runners on base, Sawyer opted for a clean inning to put her in, and she delivered as she’s done for much of the season.

With the win, Concord will make its third straight appearance in the D-I championship game, facing No. 3 Winnacunnet on Saturday afternoon. The Tide’s only loss this season came to the Warriors on April 19 in a 2-0 defeat.

As Concord looks to avenge its two consecutive championship game losses, the regular season matchup should only serve as extra motivation.

“It’s going to be a good Division I championship softball game. It’s going to be close,” Sawyer said. “I think we’re ready for them. Revenge is in our favor. If they can be pumped up any more, we get to play the one team that beat us this year, so we’ll use that a little bit.”

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