BENNINGTON — Over the last four years, the Mount Anthony softball team has seen a run of almost unprecedented success.
Since 2013, when this year's senior class were freshmen, MAU has racked up a 69-7 record and has won back-to-back championships, good for a .907 winning percentage.
Two of the seniors have been there for it all in shortshop Kori Bow and outfielder Cheyenne Guetti. Outfielder Lauren Woodcock has been there since sophomore year and the other two seniors, Jordyn Upright and Mariah Sauer-Yerke, have been around the program just as long.
With the Division I semifinal coming up today against Middlebury, the Patriots want to draw on all that experience to reach another championship matchup.
"We talk about it, no matter if it's the third game of the season or the last possible game on our field," said MAU coach Katie Contrada, who is 85-41 over nearly seven seasons. "We [tell the kids] you have to make the most of the opportunities when they present themselves. You can't look far into the future, because if you do, the present will pass you by. It's about being here in the moment, doing the best you can and leaving everything on the field. I think that type of mentality has helped us in our success."
In 2013, the Patriots finished 15-3 and were knocked out of the playoffs against Missisquoi, giving players like Bow and Guetti, along with now-graduated players such as third baseman MaKayla Farrara and shortshop Kate Goodell a drive to not let that happen again.
In 2014, they beat Missisquoi in the state final, 4-3, after a game-ending double play from center field to bring a state crown back to Bennington for the first time in a quarter-century.
In 2015, the Patriots didn't lose to any Vermont teams and went 19-1 — the best record in team history — and topped BFA St. Albans in the championship, 1-0, behind the arm of Baylee Ports, who allowed one run in four playoff games.
"It's hard to replace [players] like MaKayla and Kate and Baylee," Bow said. "Our sophomore year, we had the strongest infield in the entire state, I guess it's about living up to [those players], trying my best."
This year's team might be even better than the last two championship squads, at least in terms of offense. MAU has scored double digits in runs 13 times out of 18 contests (and a 14th in which they scored nine runs) and have outscored opponents a staggering 215-38. In their wins, the Patriots have won by at least five runs each time.
"Our seniors have been awesome leaders this year, as much as they lead speaking to the kids and encouraging them, they lead by example," Contrada said. "Every practice and game they work hard. Even the best players have setbacks, but seeing how they showing work through those setbacks, in tight situations, it's about staying calm and having confidence."
Bow and Guetti chalk up much of the success of the past years to the strong bond with their teammates.
"We've played [varsity] all four years, but even for the [seniors] that haven't been on it all four years, they've stepped up and had their time to shine. We try to be good role models for the younger players but a lot of them don't need it that much. They came from the [Southern Vermont] Bat Brats, they knew how to play, they just needed the experience," Bow said. "We're all friends, we support each other, that's how you keep the morale up."
The coaches, both Contrada and assistant Brooke Remington, have a major hand in the cool, calm demeanor of the Patriots.
"We have routines with how we run practice and prepare for games and we stick to those," Contrada said. "We might switch the batting order or do different drills once in a while, but having that routine is important coming into the playoffs and tense situations, because you've practiced it so many times already. We try to eliminate the question marks and that's half the battle, the mental game. We just focus on playing and that's what we've been doing to have success."
Coming into today's semifinal, the Patriots have won 10 straight playoff games, but that's a number that doesn't seem to matter.
"I think [today] will be a lot harder than the rest of the season, because Middlebury's a high seed (No. 3)," Bow said. "We just have to play up to our level like we usually do."
"If we play the same, don't think of it any different, that it's just like any other game, we should be OK," Guetti said.
Today's game is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. at Mount Anthony Union High School.