BENNINGTON >> Reaching their third state championship in three years, the No. 2 seed Mount Anthony softball team has everything set.
The routines are the same, practices the same.
This year, the opponent is No. 1 Essex, but that's the only difference from the past two successful runs. The Hornets and Patriots will meet at Poultney Rec for today's Division I softball state championship game.
"It's going to be a hard-fought game and come down to who gets it done," said MAU coach Katie Contrada. "We aren't focusing on Essex as much as we're focusing on ourselves and what we normally do."
Mount Anthony is looking for their third straight championship, while Essex aims for its first title since 2012. But don't talk 'three-peat' with Contrada.
"People say that, but it's a different team, different leaders and each year has been amazing in different ways," Contrada said. "We just try to treat it like it's another game in the season. Everyone wants to beat you. You can't rest on stats or record."
The teams are nearly mirror images, as both have been dominant offensively and defensively. The top-seeded Hornets, coming in at 19-0, have outscored opponents 219-32 and have scored at least 10 runs a game 13 times this season.
Essex had a bye in the first round, then topped North Country and edged Colchester in an instant classic when MaKenna Thorne hit a two-run walk off homer.
At 18-1, Mount Anthony is just as proficient, also scoring at least 10 runs 13 times. They've outscored opponents 217-39 and have allowed two runs in three playoff games. They beat St. Johnsbury 13-1, then blanked Missisquoi 10-0 in the quarterfinal before holding off Middlebury, 2-1, in the semifinal.
Essex is led by pitcher Allie Rutz, who was named Gatorade Player of the Year. As the playoffs began, Rutz had an ERA of 0.65 and struck out 160 in 97 innings. At the plate, she hit .441 with six homers and 31 RBI.
Contrada said getting to Rutz will be just as much of a mental thing as a physical one.
"Every kid is fundamentally solid at the plate, so then it's the mental game and timing," Contrada said. "Can they be relaxed, have a clear mind and focus? They've done that all season. There's really no strategy, it's about good pitch selection."
MAU is led offensively by seniors Kori Bow and Lauren Woodcock, along with leadoff hitter Kaity O'Brien. Also, moved up more recently in the order is No. 2 hitter Kaidin Gauthier, who made her mark in the semifinal with a RBI triple against Middlebury to break up a scoreless tie.
Cat Worthington, a freshman, bats third and has had a stretch this year where she crushed four homers in four games and Taylor DiCranian, the team's main pitcher, can definitely hold her own with the bat, as she's capable of blasting homers to all fields.
"There are opportunities to seize or give up and it's who can capitalize on those opportunities. It's not about three-peat, it's about the 14 kids [on the roster] and 21 outs — the things we can control," Contrada said.
Behind the plate, Jamie Boyle has been good at calling pitches for DiCranian and Katie Saunders.
"Jamie has been awesome behind the plate, she has great skills as a catcher," Contrada said. "She knows the game, about positioning and is a really nice kid too. [Her teammates] love her and respect her. She's done a really nice job, especially as a sophomore."
Contrada has a chance to reach some rarified air as far as Mount Anthony coaches are concerned. The only major team sport coaches to win three straight championships are Scott Legacy (wrestling) and Dave Fredericksen (boys basketball). But Contrada said it's not about her, it's about the kids.
"I want to give a shout to Brooke [Remington, assistant coach]. She's an amazing person and coach. We're not doing it for us, we do it because we love softball and we love to mentor the kids," Contrada said. "There's so much you can learn then just the game. How can we make the team be the best it can be? I know that we're going to go out there and leave everything out on the field, no matter what happens."