Tuesday, March 17, 2020
BY MARK JAFFEE
As its season ended prematurely because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Eastern Connecticut State softball team is moving on to wonder what if after just two games this season, both wins.
The campus and in-house classes are shut down until April 6. Three Little East Conference schools have already canceled their spring seasons, but Eastern has not done so, at least not yet.
According to Bob Molta, the school's longtime sports information director, classes may resume on campus April 6. Should games be played with other LEC teams, "no games will count as conference games or will count toward LEC standings or an LEC tournament."
So a year after winning 36 games, capturing the LEC title and finishing third in the NCAA Division III national tournament, the Warriors, featuring three Connecticut High School Caoches Association All-State players — senior tri-captain and catcher Megan Hodgdon of Cheshire, senior pitcher Morgan Sanson of Thomaston and junior right fielder Alexis Tyrrell of Torrington were primed for reaching the nationals again.
"Our batting lineup, our dominant pitching staff and our starters all around the circle are good enough to make that happen," said Hodgdon. "We've been building up to this and I believe we were good enough to have won it all."
Hodgdon noted the team graduated just one position player from 2019. Hodgdon had started 103 games at ECSU. Hodgdon had a stellar .994 fielding percentage in '19.
What made this team special besides the team's pure talent and experience?
"We should have been even better than last year because of we have such great team chemistry," said Tyrrell. "We all wanted it so much. We've all supported each other to reach our goals."
Sanson — one of the most successful three-sport scholastic athletes ever in Greater Waterbury having won state titles in field hockey, basketball and softball, and earning All-State honors in the process — gave credit to her college teammates and coaches. She won seven games and saved three others last season.
"Having played in so many big moments in high school, that gave me the confidence and prepared me for the college experience," said Sanson. "I thrived on those pressured situations. It definitely has helped to have Megan behind the plate. I couldn't ask for a better person and teammate. She has such a calming presence about her and is such a great leader."
How about Tyrrell, the team's sparkplug and leadoff hitter who was a first-team All-LEC selection last year after hitting .350 with 32 runs scored 21 runs batted in?
"I feel very fortunate to have Alexis playing the outfield," said Sanson. "She's so fast and plays so hard and gives it such a great effort."
"The best word to describe Alexis is gritty," said Hodgdon. "She was a second baseman, but coach (Diana Pepin) said she needed someone to catch the ball in right field. Alexis didn't hesitate and said she would do it."
Tyrrell noted that "If you play softball, you should be able to catch the ball. Line drives were a little harder and learning the angles took time. But Coach Pepin told me in our first scrimmage in Florida as a freshman that if I hit (consistently), I would play. I always considered myself a contact hitter. I just had to adjust to the speed and movement."
An aspiring teacher, Tyrrell was also the Warriors' goalie on the women's soccer team last fall and is motivated for her senior year resumes in August. She's also eager to be back to the softball circle, too.
"Being at Eastern has been a great fit for me on the field and in the classroom," said Tyrrell.
Hodgdon, a business major, agreed.
"I was at a college showcase before my senior year and coach Pepin approached me and asked me and asked where I was going to school and I told her I hadn't committed to anyone," said Hodgdon, who won a Class LL state title and was a state runner-up in her final two years at Cheshire. "She said that was unbelievable. I was sold on Eastern as soon as I went for an overnight visit. I loved the structure that Coach Pepin has created. It was similar to the way Kristine Drust (also the Stratford Brakettes head coach) runs the Cheshire High program."
Sanson felt the same way.
"The Eastern environment was a small-town, close-knit feel to it, jus like on Thomaston," said Sanson, who is a health science major and will attend graduate school at Sacred Heart University's occupational therapy program in the fall. "Looking back on my four years here, I've been very thankful to be on this journey with my teammates and coaches."