Editor’s note: This is the 23rd installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.It was simply the perfect mix.

Take players who had played and grown up with each other for years, from youth league straight through high school. Mix a lineup that gave contributions from the first spot in the batting order to the No. 9 hitter. Add a junior transfer who possibly pitched the game of her career at the right time.

Cony’s Alyssa Brochu, right, jumps into the air in jubilatin after Alyssah Dennett, center, tagged South Portland’s Danica Gleason out at second base for the last out in the 2012 Class A state championship softball game at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file photo

What you end up getting is the 2012 Cony softball team. Through experience, talent and grit, the Rams used these key ingredients to pull off a magical spring, which concluded with a perfect 20-0 record and the program’s first Class A state championship since 1983.

At Cony’s base was a strong veteran core, players who started together in the Capital Area Youth Softball Association and worked their way up, helping to build the Rams into a perennial playoff team. Entering the 2012 season, the Rams had made it as far as the semifinal round in both the 2010 (9-5 loss to Bangor) and 2011 (7-1 loss to Messalonskee) seasons. Confidence was certainly high in Augusta entering the season.

“After getting knocked out the previous years, we were kind of hungry,” senior second baseman Alyssa Brochu (now Alyssa Spillane) said. “That season came, and we started with some success, and we were like, ‘OK, this is really cool.’ We had all played together for years and years, so we kind of knew that it could culminate into something good if we continued to work together.”

“I think going into that season, if I remember correctly, we were pretty confident it was our year to go as far as we could,” senior catcher Nicole Rugan said. “Just because we had strong pitchers coming in. A lot of us had been playing for years and years together, even outside my own class… All of us had played travel softball together for years, so we had all put in the extra effort and were familiar playing with each other. I think we knew this was our year to go get it if we could get it.”

South Portland catcher Sam DiBiase is ready to make the tag on Cony’s Alyssa Brochu as she slides into home during the 2012 Class A softball state championship game at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. The ball dropped from DiBiase glove and Brochu was safe to score the second run for Cony in the fourth inning. The two runs were all that Cony needed to win the game and cap their perfect season. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file photo

One new element added into the mix for the 2012 season was pitcher Sonja Morse, a junior who transferred to Cony from Erskine Academy. Though she had spent the first two seasons of her high school career playing for the Eagles, Morse already had a rapport with her new Cony teammates.

“I actually grew up playing Capital Mainiacs in Augusta with all those girls on the Cony team,” Morse said. “Alyssah Dennett, Arika Brochu, Alyssa Brochu. I had played with them throughout, and Noel Levasseur, he was my coach all throughout Capital Mainiacs, and I think we ended up going to Alabama in 2009, for (the national tournament). So I grew up with them playing softball, so it was an easy transition over. I think it would have been a little weird (making the transition and not knowing anyone), especially as an adolescent teen, moving over in high school.”

Morse wasn’t the only pitcher the Rams had at the ready. Arika Brochu, a freshman, went 8-0 in the circle that season and struck out 49 batters in 35 innings, not allowing an earned run. She also played center field when she wasn’t pitching and was the team’s leadoff hitter, batting .500 in 2012, with four home runs.

“It was a special team,” former Cony coach Rocky Gaslin said. “Sonja Morse came from Erskine to Augusta. We had three strong pitchers. And of course, Rugan was catching and she had one of those special years where she hit, I don’t know, nine home runs, which is very unique in softball, that’s for sure.”

The Rams made it through the regular season with an unblemished record, but it didn’t come without its challenges. Gaslin recalls a game against Oxford Hills, a contest that was played in cold weather where the Rams struggled but ultimately pulled off a win.

Cony catcher Nicole Rugan, left, hugs Alyssa Brochu after Brochu slid safely home for Cony’s second run against South Portland in the 2012 Class A state championship at St. Joseph’s College in Standish. Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald file photo

“One of the first games, we played Oxford Hills down on their field,” Gaslin said. “I think the wind was blowing 40 miles per hour, and it was freezing to death. I think we were down three or four runs, and we put on a little laser show (hitting) and won the game… Sonja Morse couldn’t throw strikes because it was so damn cold and windy. She was all upset, she said ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ And I said ‘It’s 40 mile-per-hour winds and freezing, don’t worry about it.’ She was asking her mother for advice, her sister. But I knew we were fine with her, because she could chuck the ball.”

“That was one of those games where it was a mentally and physically challenging game,” Morse said. “I think if I remember correctly, I may have been the only pitcher (on the team) that was at that game, because there was other conflicts that came up with other players. So I’m pretty sure I pitched the whole seven innings in the cold and wind. As a high schooler, that’s a hard thing to do, to pitch the whole seven innings.”

Morse also got a chance to pitch against her old school — a 7-0 victory on May 26, 2012 — where she struck out eight batters and allowed just two hits.

“I always loved playing Erskine, because I came from there,” Morse said. “Being able to see those girls and winning those games. I remember I was really close with one of the Erskine girls and I remember striking her out, and it was just one of those things that was super fun, but they were obviously upset that I just struck them out. It was kind of an ‘In your face’ situation.”

Cony would have no trouble in the quarterfinal (11-2 win over Hampden Academy) and semifinal (8-1 win over Oxford Hills) round of the playoffs. But in order to reach its first state final since 2006, the Rams had to beat Brewer in the regional final. Having the home field advantage, the Rams edged the Witches for a 1-0 victory and the Eastern Class A title. Morse spun a gem in the circle — striking out eight batters — with the most important coming in the final out, with the potential tying run at second base.

“She was definitely one of strongest pitchers in our conference, let alone the whole state,” Rugan said. “It was an honor to be able to catch for her. We were able to have that bond to work well together and help her hit her spots and make sure she was staying accurate.”

Molly Russell — who went 3 for 3 at the plate — provided the lone run of the game with two outs in the fourth inning, ripping a double to center field to plate Brochu and eventually send Cony to the state final.

To capture its first state championship in 29 years, the Rams would have to take on the Western Class A champion, South Portland, which entered the game with a 17-2 record and a 16-game unbeaten streak. The Red Riots had won the Class A title two years before, and was among a trio of teams at the time — including Scarborough and Biddeford — that swapped out each season as the region’s best team and were routinely the favorite going into the state final. If that wasn’t enough, the Rams would have to face arguably the state’s best pitcher, Erin Bogdanovich, a lefty who went on to play collegiately at the University of Maine and eventually be named America East Pitcher of the Year in 2016.

The Rams certainly entered the game with an underdog mentality.

Players celebrate with the trophy after the Cony softball team beat South Portland 2-0 in the 2012 Class A state title game at Bailey Field in Standish. Contributed photo/Deanna and Mark Walker

“You really didn’t see a lot of the northern or central Maine teams winning it,” Rugan said. “I think it was just because the southern Maine teams… we had some teams playing year-round, but southern Maine teams played year-round, it wasn’t just a handful. The few of us that played year-round at Cony played with those southern Maine girls. We knew a lot of them in the summer, so we knew what we were getting ourselves into. (The game) wasn’t going to be easy, we had to work hard.”

“I entered the game thinking ‘We have nothing to lose at this point,'” Brochu said. “We’ve come so far, we’ve broken so many records already, let’s just keep it going and put everything out there on the field, because there was nothing to lose. Everyone in the south thought that would be an easy win. For us, we were going in there as focused and as determined as we can be to kind of ruin that interpretation and what we had worked so hard for, at least for me, since I was 3 years old.”

Despite the pressure of a state championship game and potential history on its shoulders, the Rams remained cool and calm prior to the game.

“I have a picture, but before the game, I was pretty much meditating,” Morse said. “I have a picture of me sitting (in the dugout) with just nobody (around), sitting there with my eyes closed and visualizing the game, and being ‘OK, this is what we have to do, this is my job today, I have to perform the best that I can.'”

“I knew we had (the game),” Gaslin said. “The attitude the girls had prior to the game and on the bus ride. Also, earlier that year we scrimmaged Scarborough and we beat them. So, we knew we had a special team at that point, in the preseason.”

The state game — played at Richard Bailey Field on the campus of Saint Joseph’s College in Standish — was scoreless for the three and a half innings. It was a true pitcher’s duel between Morse (10 strikeouts) and Bogdanovich (13 strikeouts). But Bogdanovich, who allowed three hits, ran into trouble in the fourth. She walked three batters in the inning, before the Rams’ No. 9 hitter, Cecelia Fuller, smacked a single to right field, plating two runners for what would eventually become the final 2-0 score.

Morse was nearly perfect, allowing just two runners on base the entire game. The first was when Sam DiBiase walked in the fifth inning. The second was when Danica Gleason got a base hit to center field with one out in the final inning.

“That was one of the best games I ever pitched,” Morse said. “I was so focused. I don’t even remember seeing the crowd… I felt good, I felt like my team was behind me. Even if there was a pitch (South Portland) got a hold of, they would be ready for it, because we had a really solid defense. I remember thinking ‘Wow, I feel good, I feel confident, and my team is going to be there behind me if one inning I struggle a little bit.'”

Both baserunners were picked off, with the pickoff of Gleason being the game’s final out. The Rams immediately rushed the field in celebration.

“It was honestly the best day of my entire high school career,” Alyssa Brochu said. “For us seniors, we had already graduated, so I think I couldn’t get anything better than graduation day. To be a few days after graduation day and to be able to experience that, that was the best way to end your high school career. I don’t think I could have predicted or wanted anything better… We celebrated on the field, got all of the pictures and everything. Then we got a police-escorted ride back to Cony with all the parents behind us, honking their horns all the way. Everybody that came to that game was celebrating with us. Then we got back to the school and had a huge party there. It was just indescribable, you couldn’t ask for a better way to end your high school career.”

Eight years later, the memories remain fresh.

“It was funny, there was so many kids (that year) that got the game-winning hit,” Gaslin said. “It was a Molly Russell — who probably got more game-winning hits for me than any other player — or (Fuller), that got the base hit that knocked the two runs (in the state game). She was struggling like crazy. But for her to get that hit, I think that meant a lot more to her to be able to leave her career, as a senior, knocking in the two runs to win the game. To watch these kids have success was special.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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