Ready to throw down: Mount Anthony faces Missisquoi with Division I crown on the line
BENNINGTON - Considering that the Mount Anthony Union High School softball team's season in 2013 was ended in heartbreaking fashion against the same Missisquoi team the Patriots face today at 5 p.m. in Poultney, one might assume that revenge is on No. 2 seed MAU's mind.
But they would be wrong - very wrong. While last year's 3-2 loss in the quarterfinal against the No. 4 Thunderbirds is remembered, today is a new day and a new game.
"They haven't forgotten that game, but at the same time, it doesn't matter," said MAU coach Katie Contrada. "We still have to come out and play hard, I'm not sure revenge motivates you in the right direction. We both have different teams. Missisquoi is a good team and we can't think about last year or even last week, we have to think about what we doing every moment."
Missisquoi is back in the final after last season, when they lost 1-0 in extra innings to Brattleboro. The bats have been in force for the Thunderbirds in this postseason, scoring 30 runs in three games - including 12 in a rout of No. 1 Essex.
Mount Anthony has been strong on offense throughout the playoffs as well, but the defense has also carried its weight as the Patriots have outscored opponents 18-2 in its three games.
"Getting hits in the right situations will be key for whoever wins," Contrada said. "Both are really good hitting teams and in the BFA [St. Albans] game, we left a lot of runners [on base]. [Missisquoi] will make plays defensively, so executing with runners on will be clutch. Both teams will make the great plays, but we need to make the fundamental [ones], we can't afford to make errors against a good team like Missisquoi."
At the plate, Kate Goodell leads the team with a .500 batting average (35-for-70), while Makayla Farrara is next at .443 (27-for-61) and is tied for the team lead in RBI with 18.
On the mound, Baylee Ports has silenced opponent's bats to the tune of seven earned runs in 78 2/3 innings - a 0.62 ERA.
Both teams are looking to end long title droughts - Missisquoi hasn't raised the Division I trophy since 1994, while Mount Anthony has only won one championship, in 1988, when current MAU athletic director Tim Brown was the coach.
Mount Anthony last reached the final in 2009, a 6-0 loss to Essex.
"I'm excited and confident, I know the game and the team - no one knows them better than me," Contrada said. "We have to go out there, not do anything different and have faith that the players know what to do in certain situations to get it done. I trust them and I think they trust me."
After graduation on Friday night, seniors Goodell, Farrara, Lauren Bow and Jenna Crowley still have some unfinished business. Over the past two years, the Patriots are 32-5, but haven't reached the pinnacle of Division I - a chance they have today.
"One of the things that has worked this year is the senior leadership," Contrada said. They haven't overstepped their roles as seniors, they've been welcoming to new faces on our team, listen to the underclassman and help them through any situation. They have to be leaders and be positive and encouraging like they have all year."
Using that experience, there's a quiet confidence that the Patriots can reach the top of the mountain.
"I'm proud of what they accomplished, and I'm looking forward to [the final]," Contrada said. "There's always nerves in big games, but a lot of [the players] are seasoned veterans. They've played in lots of sports, big games and a lot of pressure situations."
It'll be the first time for Contrada, MAU's coach for the past five seasons, to coach in a state championship. She said she's been lucky with good kids - on and off the field - and a supportive coaching staff and school.
"You have to believe in what you're doing, that you're making the right decision in the right situation," Contrada said. "Not everyone is going to agree, but you keep people around that support you and give you positive feedback and good criticism. We've worked hard to make the program strong and so far it's paid off.
"The hardest part of being a coach is that you can't do it for them, they are the ones out there making the plays," Contrada continued. "Standing on the sidelines and watching them succeed has been gratifying."
Win or lose, the season has been an extremely successful one.
"We can't worry about things we have no control over. We can show up at 5 p.m. Monday and throw down. If we leave it all on the field, we'll have a great game and it'll be a lot of fun," Contrada said. "We can't set a crazy high bar and psych ourselves out. We have to go in and just play another game. The state championship is in the future, in the game, it's fielding a grounder and throwing [accurately] to first, taking good swings. Do it all for seven innings, hopefully you win. You have to live in the moment to achieve what you want to achieve."
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