HOOKSETT — Tucked on a hilltop in a corner of the Southern New Hampshire campus, two of the best softball teams in all of Division II played a classic game.
With its back against the wall, Saint Anselm scored three runs in the top of the seventh to defeat the host Penmen 3-1, complete a three-game sweep of the season series, and clinch the Northeast-10 Northeast Division title.
More than that though, it was a showcase of two of the best softball clubs in the region, and both sides did it with rosters packed with local players. A combined seven Granite Staters were sprinkled across both rosters along with more than 20 combined players from Massachusetts and Maine.
“When you can luck out and find a kid who is good enough to be an impact player on your team right in your backyard, that doesn’t hurt,” Saint Anselm coach Jill Gagnon said. “We usually all see each other at the summer tournaments.”
One of those impact players Tuesday was junior Shannon Colson, who scored a run during the winning rally in the seventh. A Rochester native, Colson starred at Spaulding High before enrolling at Saint Anselm.
Milford’s Erin Tyrrell was a defensive star for the Penmen Tuesday and Laconia’s Jackie Gavin (SNHU) and Danville’s Kylie Fitzgerald (Saint Anselm) were starters.
“It’s definitely something fun,” Colson said. “I played with and against Erin in high school. It’s fun. You know how good she is, and it goes to show there are some really strong kids here (in New Hampshire).”
Having such a rich pool of local talent has allowed both programs to consistently reload this decade. The teams are a combined 67-18 this season. Southern New Hampshire, currently ranked 13th in national rankings, is primed to make its fifth NCAA tournament appearance since 2014.
Saint Anselm advanced all the way to the national championship series last year and brought back many key pieces of the roster.
“SNHU’s been good quite a few years now, and we’ve built our program up over the last few years now,” Gagnon said. “Both schools have a lot to offer athletically and academically. Success usually breeds more success. It’s a great place to be, and a lot of our kids are local, which is great to see too.”
According to SNHU coach Deb Robitaille, one of the added benefits of consistent success is being able to nurture players over their four years rather than having to find starters to fill positions immediately.
“Recruiting’s a little easier,” Robitaille said. “Winning always helps. Winning helps you develop a bench. You can carry a bigger team and develop them into what you want.”
While both teams have been excellent this season, there is still much to play for. The conference tournament looms in two weeks before the stressful grind of trying to navigate the NCAA tournament field.
“We still have three games left in our regular season,” Gagnon said. “We’re just trying to do our job. What’s great is that we have a lot of returners that have been there and know what it takes.”