February 11. 2013 9:53PM

Kevin Gray's Gray Matter: Best friends in spotlight as Milford seniors sign

New Hampshire Union Leader

Milford runner Courtney Hawkins gets a piggy-back from soccer player Morgan Andrews at a gathering at Milford High School on Monday. The pair, who are best friends, signed letters of intent to attend the University of Rhode Island and Notre Dame, respectively. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

A BEST FRIEND, someone who truly understands your struggles and success, is hard to find. Maybe even tougher in high school, where fellow students can be jealous or judgmental. Teenagers would probably tell you that "Mean Girls," a movie about social cliques, isn't that far from reality.

That's what made Tuesday afternoon so special for Milford High seniors Morgan Andrews and Courtney Hawkins, who both signed college letters of intent in a small after-school gathering at school. Andrews will play soccer at the University of Notre Dame, and Hawkins will be a distance runner at the University of Rhode Island.

Both athletes have won New Hampshire Gatorade Player of the Year honors in their respective sports, with Andrews earning the 2012 Gatorade National Player of the Year Award. Hawkins recently won the NHIAA 1,500- and 3,000-meter events at the Division II indoor championship at Dartmouth College, and Andrews was named the Robert A. "Red" Rolfe Female Athlete of the Year Award by the New Hampshire Union Leader.

They both shared the spotlight on Monday. Andrews wore a Fighting Irish hoodie, and Hawkins donned a baby blue URI sweatshirt. Milford High's director of athletics, Marc Maurais, saw this day coming a year ago when both girls won Gatorade Player of the Year honors as juniors.

"Both were quick to recognize that the other girl did something just as amazing. To see their friendship and see the way they interact, it's very genuine," Maurais said. "They are classy individuals."

They get each other. They can appreciate the drive and hard work it takes to reach your potential. They know how it feels to get up for 6 a.m. practice when everyone else is sleeping. They'd rather win on Saturday than party on Friday night. They're not afraid to fail. They love to compete. When it's 10 p.m. and they're dead tired, they finish their homework.

"All throughout high school, Courtney has been there for me, and we've supported each other," said Andrews, who served as captain of the U.S. Under-17 women's national soccer team. "I think we understand what it's like to be in each other's shoes. Sometimes our athletic schedules get in the way of what we're doing, but we always stick together. It's amazing to share this together. I couldn't be happier."

The fellow Spartans celebrated with a trip to the Pasta Loft in Milford. Hawkins said her friendship with Andrews ultimately helped her run faster.

"She definitely motivated me. Last year, when she was the national Gatorade Player of the Year, it made me want to work even harder. She showed me that anything can happen if you work really hard," Hawkins said. "I don't think I'll ever forget this day."

Milford's finest haven't forgotten their manners, either. That's one quality that continues to impress Maurais.

"We're all so busy, and we all get wrapped up in the moment. When I watched Courtney at (the Dartmouth Relays), that's what I noticed after she won both events. She took the time to listen to everyone and thank them. Not everyone does that," Maurais said.


CARPENTER WATCH: In 20 years of covering high, college and pro sports, I've never met anyone who enjoys competition more than pitcher Chris Carpenter. The Trinity High of Manchester graduate is hard-wired to win. He expects only the best from himself and his teammates. He holds himself accountable.

The St. Louis Cardinals veteran, still troubled with circulation/nerve problems in his right arm, has not reported to spring training in Jupiter, Fla., but he's not giving up hope for this season. Or next season. Retire?

"Maybe I don't ever want it to end," Carpenter told reporters at Busch Stadium on Monday. "I don't think I'll ever retire, to be honest with you. I'll never say that word. There might always be hope. Maybe like when I'm 48 I can come back and pitch some more."

Carpenter turns 38 in April. He'll be paid $12.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. The two-time World Series champion and 2005 Cy Young Award winner has had eight surgeries in his career, including a radical procedure to remove a rib and soft tissue last July, an effort to alleviate pressure on a shoulder nerve.

Carpenter made six starts at the end of last season, including three starts in the postseason, which provided hope entering 2013. In December, he threw a baseball at his Bedford residence without any lingering problems. In January, he told Cardinals fans that he'll be ready for the season but subsequent throwing sessions proved stressful on the shoulder. He said he had "no idea where the ball was going" during his fourth and final session.

"I was trying to think of reasons to be positive about what's going on," said Carpenter, diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome last year. "My arm felt pretty good, my hand was a little messed up. It just continued to go downhill."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he wants the former ace at spring training. For now, that's not going to happen.

"When you're in this situation once, it's hard enough. When you're in it three or four times it becomes a big pain," said Carpenter, who owns a career 144-94 record and 3.76 ERA. "Mentally and physically it's hard to come in every day and try to think you're part of it when you're not."

Information from mlb.com was used in this report. Staff writer Kevin Gray's email address is kgray@unionleader.com