PLYMOUTH — It was certainly a season to remember for the ConVal softball team.
The Cougars’ historic season came to an end with an 11-4 loss to No. 3 John Stark in the Division II semifinals Wednesday evening at Plymouth State University in Plymouth.
ConVal — the No. 7 seed in the tournament — found itself in the state semifinals for the first time since it won the title in 2013.
“Getting to the final four for the first time since 2013 is a thing in itself,” said junior Lily Mandel, who went 3-for-3 with an RBI, as well as getting the start in the circle. “It’s really great because I’ve been playing with most of these people for years. Since I was 12, maybe.
“With how we’ve transformed into one unit as the season went on, it’s really something to look back on and be so proud of,” added Mandel, holding back a few tears. “Just proud of where we’ve come from where we started.”
After winning four of their last five games of the regular season, the Cougars beat No. 10 Sanborn in the first round of the D-II tournament before upsetting No. 2 Merrimack Valley in the quarterfinals.
That quarterfinal upset set up a date with No. 3 John Stark and the D-II Pitcher of the Year, junior Olivia Hargreaves. Hargreaves kept ConVal’s offense at bay for much of the evening, allowing four runs on nine hits with 10 strikeouts in the complete game outing.
ConVal’s offense caught some momentum in the sixth inning, stringing together three consecutive hits to start the inning. The Cougars scored three runs in the sixth — two coming off a timely single from senior Julienne Cabana — to cut the deficit to 11-4, but that was as close as ConVal would get.
Cabana had a team-high three RBIs in a 2-for-3 day. Along with her two RBIs in the sixth, she knocked in a run with a two-out single in the third inning.
“Same thing that [Coach] Hinton told me against the Merrimack Valley pitcher: Know what I’m doing before I’m doing it,” Cabana said. “Swing hard. … It was good. I was happy.”
Mandel pitched the first 2-plus innings before classmate Kendall Sullivan took over. Sullivan pitched the final four innings.
John Stark racked up 11 hits and drew six walks on the day and was helped out by five ConVal errors in the field.
“[John Stark] got on the ball today, for sure,” said ConVal coach Amanda Hinton. “They had some great, solid hits. Made contact, ran the bases well, we made some throwing errors. Definitely a solid-contact team. Good pitching. Good overall ballclub.”
Sullivan went 2-for-4 at the plate with a run scored.
The loss ends ConVal’s season with a 12-7 record. When this year’s seniors were freshmen in the 2019 season, ConVal finished the season with a 2-16 record.
What a difference four years can make, huh?
“Watching [the program] grow up, and me grow with it, it means a lot,” Cabana said. “I’ve been playing since I was little. Good way to end a career.
“Here we are in the final four, and with a team where there isn’t a single person I could say a bad thing about,” Cabana added. “I love them. I love the underclassmen.”
The juniors — the core of the team — will be back next year, hungry to get even farther in the postseason.
“It definitely gets me excited for next season,” Mandel said. “It’ll set us up for a good season. Should take us pretty far.”
“It’s a really exciting feeling,” Hinton said. “It’s exciting that we’re young. … It’ll be fun again next year to see what the competition will look like. The desire to win and yet still have a good time is very evident in our team. They don’t lose that spark very easily. … The future of ConVal softball looks very bright for years to come.”