Granite State Games championship rosters filled with athletes competing for the love of the game

The Tilton School’s Gailine Paquin delivers a pitch for the Lakes Region team that faced Monadnock in the championship of the Granite State Games on Wednesday.

The Tilton School’s Gailine Paquin delivers a pitch for the Lakes Region team that faced Monadnock in the championship of the Granite State Games on Wednesday. Chip Griffin / Photos by Chip

Newport’s Cheyenne Hannum chases down a fly ball for Monadnock on Wednesday evening.

Newport’s Cheyenne Hannum chases down a fly ball for Monadnock on Wednesday evening. Chip Griffin / Photos by Chip

Gilford’s Kendal Heyman extends to bunt the ball for the Lakes Region team during its Granite State Games championship loss to Monadnock on Wednesday in Concord.

Gilford’s Kendal Heyman extends to bunt the ball for the Lakes Region team during its Granite State Games championship loss to Monadnock on Wednesday in Concord. Chip Griffin / Photos by Chip

Dakota Martinez, of the St. Paul's School, of the Lakes Region team fields a ball during the Granite State Games championship held in Concord on Wednesday. Lakes Region fell to Monadnock 11-4.

Dakota Martinez, of the St. Paul's School, of the Lakes Region team fields a ball during the Granite State Games championship held in Concord on Wednesday. Lakes Region fell to Monadnock 11-4. Chip Griffin/ Photos by Chip

Alexis Wilson, of Prospect Mountain, sends in a pitch during the championship game between Lakes Region and Monadnock at the Granite State Games held in Concord on Wednesday.

Alexis Wilson, of Prospect Mountain, sends in a pitch during the championship game between Lakes Region and Monadnock at the Granite State Games held in Concord on Wednesday. Chip Griffin/ Photos by Chip

Kayla Smith, of Merrimack Valley, tried to slide into the base ahead of the tag during the championship between Lakes Region and Monadnock at the Granite State Games held in Concord on Wednesday.

Kayla Smith, of Merrimack Valley, tried to slide into the base ahead of the tag during the championship between Lakes Region and Monadnock at the Granite State Games held in Concord on Wednesday. Chip Griffin/ Photos by Chip

Kimball Union Academy’s Alyssa Leppard, of Concord, drives a pitch toward the outfield during a  Granite State Games softball contest between Lakes Region and Monadnock held in Concord on Wednesday,

Kimball Union Academy’s Alyssa Leppard, of Concord, drives a pitch toward the outfield during a Granite State Games softball contest between Lakes Region and Monadnock held in Concord on Wednesday, Chip Griffin / Photos by Chip

By SOPHIE LEVENSON

Monitor staff

Published: 06-20-2024 1:43 PM

Concord local Alyssa Leppard planted her feet, clutched her bat and swung hard. She missed the yellow softball by several inches.

Her coach, Jen Boyden, standing behind third base, met Leppard’s eye. They both laughed.

It was the bottom of the fourth inning in the Granite State Games championship final, and Lakes Region was down 7-4 to Monadnock. The opposing team’s head coach, Marty Testo, gripped the wire fence surrounding the New Hampshire Technical Institute softball field, locked in on the pitcher he had just sent in to replace his starter.

“We need it here right now, kid,” he shouted at the circle. “Your best stuff.”

He got it — his reliever struck Leppard out to close the inning and kept up the good work. The Lakes Region team ultimately dropped the game, 11-4, despite a promising fourth inning and lockdown defense in the fifth and sixth.

But Boyden and her girls in blue won’t lose any sleep over second place — they took the Granite State Games as a rare opportunity to play softball with low stakes, simply for the love of the game.

“They just gave up their only three days off to go play more. You gotta love it if you’re going to do that,” Boyden said.

In the top of the third, Monadnock slid past home base five times. Two runs came from smash hits that barely missed leaving the park. After clearing loaded bases — due to a few errors from the Lakes’ infield — Monadnock lit up the scoreboard for a 6-1 lead.

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Still, when a clean catch from the Lakes Region’s infield ended the barrage, it turned out that Boyden’s team hadn’t lost any of its energy. They answered with a run in the bottom of the third and then two more in the fourth. Dakota Martinez and Finley Heath hit back-to-back singles, then each stole a base — which they turned into runs when Alexis Wilson slammed a deep ball into the net on the far end of the field to clinch a double.

“We’re lucky in that we’ve had kind of a core for four years,” Boyden said. “They’ve been talking about who has the most T-shirts.”

Boyden had put Concord native Abigail Vlacich in the circle in the fourth inning. In the top of the fifth, the Proctor Academy athlete was still there, holding things together defensively while her team fought for a comeback. Monadnock was stuck with seven runs while Vlacich reigned in the circle — and through the sixth inning, too, when closing pitcher Wilson struck out all the girls in green.

The top of the seventh made things clear: This was Monadnock’s game.

Whispers of a comeback from the Lakes Region faded to silence as Testo’s group pounded home four more runs, sealing its victory. And yet Boyden’s girls barely flinched, letting the loss roll off their backs and focusing instead on the throwing, batting, catching — the motions of softball that they had all signed up to do for three more days in this New Hampshire summer heat wave.

“I think this really does bring in the ones that are here for the right reasons,” Boyden said.

Most of the girls on the Lakes Region roster will spend their summers with travel softball teams, playing at camps and tournaments in front of college scouts. There, the pressure dial will be turned all the way up, especially for the girls with dreams of playing college ball. And many of the Lakes Region girls will be more than qualified to do so.

But in the Granite State Games, where players can range from entering seventh grade or just-graduated seniors under 19 year old, it’s about nothing more than softball. They don’t really practice. They all come from different schools. Nobody sat in the small stands Wednesday evening except for players’ parents and siblings.

And everybody played because they wanted to.

Sophie Levenson can be reached at slevenson@cmonitor.com.