Ed. Note — This story also appears in the Thursday edition of The Eagle Tribune
Megan Cook remembers last year well. The truth is, every member of the Merrimack softball team remembers what it took for the Warriors to make last year’s NCAA tournament, running into a hot Molloy team in the East Regional Final.
It was a fun experience for the Warriors, getting back to the NCAA’s for the first time in six years, but it ended on a sour note.
Merrimack wants a better ending this time around. The Warriors enter this year’s NCAA Tournament today with a 12 p.m. first pitch against Saint Anselm up in Manchester; the winner of this weekend’s regional advances to the Super Regional next weekend.
“We’ve worked hard all year,” said senior pitcher Megan Cook. “We knew what to expect and what it would take to get back here. The game is really simple, so for us it was about narrowing it down and working on what we need to do. We took the time to work on the stuff that we thought we needed to work on. We’ve had great chemistry and cohesiveness. As soon as we got our nine on the field, we knew we could communicate, so it’s been a great team to be a part of, and we’re all working hard.”
Cook is has been a workhorse for the Warriors this season, throwing 203.1 innings — the next closest pitcher on the staff has thrown 47.2 — striking out 172 batters (a new program single-season record) and posting a 1.27 ERA. She was named the NE10 Pitcher of the Year and earlier this week, along with teammate Alyssa Williamson, was tabbed as NFCA All-Region. Cook has gone the distance in 25 of her 28 starts.
“It’s not that I knew I would be taking on a big role, but I was preparing for it and was ready for it,” she said. “You get ready for stuff like that in the offseason. For me, I have a big role on this team and I just try to do the best that I can. I know that my teammates have my back.”
The East Regional is a double-elimination tournament. The Warriors will play again tomorrow at either 11 a.m. or 1:30 p.m., depending on the result of Thursday’s opening game.
The tournament is being hosted by Saint Anselm, the No. 2 overall seed in the East Region and the Warriors (the No. 7 seed) are staying at a hotel in Manchester instead of commuting back and forth to Merrimack’s North Andover campus.
“It doesn’t matter where we play,” Cook said. “Whoever we’re playing, wherever we’re playing, it’s all the same. It’s a game and we’ll be ready for it.”
Regardless of who Merrimack plays this weekend after Saint A’s, the opponent will be familiar. All four teams in the Saint A’s regional are NE10 schools; the other game features Pace against Southern New Hampshire.
“The familiarity helps both teams prepare, but it also can hurt both teams,” said Cook. “It’s good and bad. We understand their frequencies and we’ll know what they’re trying to execute and what they’re looking for, but they also know the same thing about us. We all know each other, we all know that we’re in there with four really good teams, so it will come down to who executes better. There aren’t any secrets, it will just be comes out to play and executes better.”
The Warriors arrived in Manchester yesterday and had a practice before returning to the team hotel. It’s a new year for the Warriors, and today starts a new season.
“I think we have a better sense this year of what it’s going to take to get it done,” Cook said. “You need to be mentally tough for a tournament like this. Every team is coming out trying to beat you. We’ve told the incoming players, and it’s hard to sum it up, but it’s a fun experience. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work. We’ve faced adversity and we know we can handle it. It’s exciting to be back here and have a chance to win.”
New Diamond Pays Off
The Warriors played their 2018 on a new softball diamond that was installed on campus as part of the project that also included Merrimack Stadium. The all-turf softball field — one of the few facilities like it in the region — paid off with the unpredictable New England weather. Boston College even utilized Merrimack’s diamond earlier this season for a series against the University of Virgina.
“At first I was a little unsure, but I was so used to playing on dirt, but I’ve come to really like the turf,” Cook said. “We live in New England, so it’s perfect for us. It’s like a new home for us.”