BENNINGTON -- At the beginning and end of every game, the Mount Anthony Union High School softball team yells out their rally cry:
"Together we’re better, together we win!"
With nearly the entire roster returning this season from last year’s 15-3 campaign, that statement isn’t just a cheer -- it’s a mission statement.
"We don’t just say it, we really believe it," said Mount Anthony coach Katie Contrada. "Just because the pitcher gives up a long hit to the outfield, our outfielders can catch the ball. No one is going on timid, they’re just going out there to play."
So far, the Patriots have been a force to be reckoned with, winning their first nine games in a row -- including seven where they have scored at least nine runs -- and outscoring opponents 108-23.
The most impressive win of the year came on Friday, as MAU crushed defending state champion Brattleboro 14-2 at the Colonels’ home field -- which makes MAU 24-3 overall since the beginning last season.
"It starts over the summer, playing in the offseason," said senior third baseman Makayla Farrara. "Just everyone being consistent, working hard at practice helps too."
That consistency has been paramount -- at the plate and on the mound.
Offensively, six players are batting more than .400, led by sophomore second baseman Kori Bow, who is tearing up pitching to the tune of a .562 average.
Junior Morgan Hewitt, usually batting near the bottom of the lineup is next at .455, while Farrara (.429), junior Julie Elwell (.423), Kate Goodell (.419) and junior Keira Goodell (.419) are close behind.
In the circle, junior Baylee Ports has one of the top earned run averages in the area, at 1.31. Senior Jenna Crowley, in a limited role, has a 2.86 ERA.
"The underclassmen are so good, they make me forget I’m a senior," Kate Goodell said. "Everyone’s got the same caliber of play. It makes me feel like I’m not leaving."
"It’s nice to see if they make a mistake, they don’t get down on each other or themselves," Farrara added. "They listen to us for help and on the next play, they adjust to make it right."
There have been a few hiccups, but the Patriots have managed to work through all of them.
In the opening game against Otter Valley, MAU trailed 3-0 early, then blitzed the Otters in a 9-3 win.
On a rainy day a couple weeks later against Rutland, Mount Anthony had to come back in the late innings to tie the game, then Baylee Ports walk-off double in the eighth gave them a 6-5 win.
Three days later against Springfield, the Patriots trailed again but Kate Goodell tied the game with a single in the sixth and Julie Elwell won it with a triple in the seventh.
"We have more confidence now, compared to freshman or sophomore year," Goodell said. "In a close game, we have our heads on [straight], saying, yeah, we’ve won before, let’s do it again. Being undefeated can be your biggest success or biggest downfall. We don’t want everyone to think that it’s a given we are winning, we need to work hard for every game."
Last year, the Patriots lost its first two contests, then rattled off 15 wins in a row before falling in the Division I quarterfinals, 3-2, to Missisquoi.
This year, they are No. 3 in the Division I standings, behind 9-0 Essex and 8-0 BFA-St. Albans.
"You can’t rest on your record going into the playoffs," Contrada said. "Knowing we can come back for a win, that we can hold a tight lead and guys can get clutch hits, that’s so huge having that experience. It’s been good for our team to have close games and adversity, to have to play really hard all seven innings, that’s what will count in the playoffs."
Contrada said the success of her team going forward -- undefeated or not -- will be based on how well the team works together to the common goal of a state championship.
"We have chemistry. Our senior class this year is really strong, not only as actual players on the field, they can walk the walk, and [they are] leaders off the field too," Contrada said. "Everyone is here not for themselves, but for the team. We talked about that at the beginning of the year, not one person can carry this team on their shoulders, each one is a slice of our 12 piece pie."
"If everybody’s working together, we’ll win. if they start playing for themselves, bad things will happen. That’s the approach we’ve taken that approach this season, so far."
The Patriots take their unbeaten record to Pittsfield, Mass., today, then host BBA on Thursday before a Monday matchup at Mount Greylock.
"I said it before, we really take it literally one pitch, one game at a time," Contrada said. "We know that every pitch, out and inning counts. We’re not looking back -- what’s in the past is in the past, it doesn’t matter -- every day we have to come out and prove it over and over."