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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Campbell outduels White Mountains for Division III softball title

PLYMOUTH – Emily Paquin and Brittany McNulla have made countless memories on the softball field together.

They’ve played with one another for 12 years, including the last four on the Campbell High School softball team, and have become inseparable as best friends and battery mates in that time. ...

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PLYMOUTH – Emily Paquin and Brittany McNulla have made countless memories on the softball field together.

They’ve played with one another for 12 years, including the last four on the Campbell High School softball team, and have become inseparable as best friends and battery mates in that time.

On Saturday, they saved their most unforgettable moment for last.

Clinging to a one-run lead in the bottom of the seventh with one on and two outs, Paquin fired a 1-2 pitch into the mitt of McNulla that was initially called a ball.

But the first-base umpire thought otherwise and ruled that White Mountains’ Kalie Savage went around on a check swing for strike three, sending the Cougars into euphoria as Paquin and McNulla embraced for the final time to celebrate Campbell’s 1-0 win in the Division III final at Plymouth State University.

Paquin and McNulla, the only seniors on the team, celebrated their third championship in four years and their second in a row.

“It feels amazing. It’s the best thing that could’ve happened,” said McNulla, who will play on scholarship at Virginia next year. “It was probably above graduation.

“This is one that I’ll remember forever, my senior year. Going out on the highest note you can.”

It was only right for the duo to go out on top together.

“She’s my best friend,” Paquin said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else.”

As the No. 3 seed in the tournament, the Cougars (17-3) felt like the underdogs trying to defend their crown against pitcher Erika Millett for the top-seeded Spartans, who came into the game 19-0.

Campbell had beaten another undefeated team, Conant, in the semifinals.

But Campbell thrived as Paquin outdueled the Gatorade New Hampshire Player of the Year with seven shutout innings, allowing just five hits and a walk to go with eight strikeouts.

“It felt really good,” said Paquin, who pitched in her final softball game. “It felt even better because a lot of people didn’t think we were going to be back here, and definitely a lot of people didn’t think we were going to win.

“It’s cool coming in as the underdog. Even me, a lot of people don’t look at me as a better pitcher than most.”

Arguably the biggest reason for Paquin’s success, particularly on Saturday, comes from her relationship with her catcher.

“We were just on key with each other,” McNulla said. “I know exactly how she’s going to throw the ball, she knows pretty much what I’m going to call, so we’re pretty much in tune with that.”

Millett was nearly untouchable, as well. The Division III Pitcher of the Year winner scattered eight hits and no walks with six strikeouts, but gave up that one run in the fifth inning that ultimately decided the game.

Gianna Cataldo led off with a triple that was nearly caught by center fielder Lily Stinehour near the fence, but the ball bobbled in Stinehour’s glove as she ran back to make the play and was jarred loose as she hit the ground. Emma Kuczkowski scored Cataldo with a sacrifice to second two batters later.

“It was just who was going to get the breaks, and we happened to get the breaks,” Campbell coach Joe Raycraft said.

The Cougars had a chance to add to their lead in the top of the seventh when Kuczkowski and Lauren King hit a two-out single and double respectively.

But they came up empty when Hannah Neild grounded out to first.

White Mountains threatened in the bottom half when Millett led off with a single. But like she did with the first three batters she faced, Paquin – a “pressure pitcher,” Raycraft said – answered with three straight strikeouts to end the game.

“It feels really good, and it’s a testament to our team,” McNulla said. “We play as a team. We’re not one player getting everything done. We get it done as a team.”

And in Paquin and
McNulla’s case, they got it done once again as a duo.