Battery mates. In the game of softball, perhaps there are no two words more important.
Coaches, the world over, will tell you the same. Without the benefit of having a solid pitcher-catcher combo, you can't expect to get very far. Truth be told, a standout pitcher/catcher duo is likely to give any team a distinct edge. The backlash comes if neither is on the same page. Something that happens more than you might think. That is how significant a strong battery means to any club.
For Bridgewater-Raynham pitcher Sarah Dawson and catcher Emily Kurkul, there have been no issues about being on the same page. This talented duo have worked together for several years, long before their high school years. The bond each has forged, on and off the field, is unbreakable. You would be hard-pressed to find a better pitcher-catcher connection anywhere in the state.
"We've been throwing together ever since we started playing softball," said Dawson. "I moved here when I was in fourth grade and Emily has caught me ever since. She knows what type of pitch I want to throw and when I want to throw it. We don't even have to talk because we both know each other so well and what each other is thinking. I trust her with every pitch that I throw. I've never once questioned her decision making. She knows the game and she can call a great game."
Starting on the varsity since her sophomore season, Dawson is overwhelmingly considered the top-rated pitcher in the state. Most-certainly, her staggering statistics will back that claim.
Now a senior, the 6-1 fireballer is 63-4 for her career with a 0.51 career ERA. In 429 innings pitched, she has struck out 551 batters. Dawson also has nine no-hitters to her credit. But to her, those are just mere numbers.
"All of that is nice but all I care about are wins," Dawson said. "It's easy for someone to get caught up in their own stats but I don't like to. It's tough when people ask me how many no-hitters I've thrown or how may strikeouts I have. To be honest, I always get awkward in those situations because I don't like to talk about my personal stats or my personal performance. Maybe 20 years from now I'll look back and feel like I was a pretty good pitcher but not right now."
Last June, Dawson helped lead the Trojans to their first Division 1 state title. She closed things out by tossing a one-hitter as part of a 9-0 victory over Holy Name. Receiving strong interest from a host of quality college programs throughout the country last year, Dawson eventually chose the University of Pittsburgh as her future home.
"I can't explain how truly excited I am about it," she said. "I might have the opportunity to start there next year If I continue to work hard. It's really cool to think that I'm going to be playing big girl softball."
A lot of Dawson's attributes come from working with Kurkul, who, like Dawson, is one of the best at her trade in the Commonwealth. Kurkul plays the catcher's role with the perfect mindset Sometimes she will handle her ace pitcher with kid gloves while at other times, she will take Dawson to task if she is not happy about something.
"When it is time for her to be yelled at I will," laughed Kurkul. "We are very close friends and I think that helps keep the both of us in check."
Kurkul has been rock solid behind the plate, but it is what she can do at the plate that has received much of the attention.
Kurkul, who will play at Merrimack College next season, has a career batting average of .450 with 118 RBIs and 21 home runs. Last season was a breakout year for her. Kurkul batted .533, drove in 55 runs, banged out 12 homers and had a slugging percentage of 1.054.
When you have two players of this magnitude, it certainly makes things a bit more comfortable from a coach's perspective.
"Last year Emily was immense," said 18 year Trojan head coach Mike Carrozza. "She was off the charts. Nobody in Division 1 softball in Massachusetts puts up 55 RBIs in 25 games. Her swing is very compact and she is strong. When she gets the bat on the ball she drives right through the ball.
"With Sarah, she has been consistent every year. She has a passion for pitching and she just carries herself well as a pitcher. She is a major presence in the circle which is big. What you see with her is what you get and 99 percent of the time it has been good."
During last year's magical run, Dawson, Kurkul and third baseman Madison Shaw (now playing at Fordham University) were named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Team.
"Only 36 girls in the country make that team so it was a great accomplishment by all three of them," Carrozza said.
Both Dawson and Kurkul were put on varsity as freshmen. Dawson was the No. 2 pitcher then, backing up Audrey Dolloff, now playing at Southern Connecticut University. Dawson's time in the circle that season was limited, but still managed to go 3-1.
"I didn't deserve to be in the circle my freshman year," Dawson said. "Audrey had pitched her butt off and deserved to be there more than I did. Everyone needs to wait their turn."
Kurkul started out at third base before moving perminantly behind the plate as a sophomore.
"I love being back there and seeing everything that goes on," she said. "I love being able to do multiple things at once."
The same time Kurkul was changing positions, so too was Dawson, taking over the top pitching reins from the now-graduated Dolloff. Kurkul says since that time, she has witnessed many changes in Dawson's gradual rise to prominence.
"From start to finish, she is so much different from her freshman year," said Kurkul. "I'm saying that in terms of change in height, a different motion, her velocity, location and control. Everything just went up."
With the regular season nearly completed, B-R has picked up where it left off from last year. The Trojans presently reside at 15-1 and are quite capable of attaining another state championship.
But mind you, B-R is not a two player operation. The Trojans are well-stocked talent-wise with the inclusion of shortstop Jenny Heller, heading to Southern New Hampshire University and second baseman Sophie Perez, off to St. Peter's University next fall. They also have an abundance of outfield depth consisting of Kelsey Leuenberger, Stacey Kortosky, Nicole McSweeney and Steph Cavallaro. The latter two will also play in the infield.
"Here you have a bunch of players who all have that unique passion for the game," said Carrozza. "They understand the reason you do things and why you do them. All are pretty much in tune and they take it game by game and don't look beyond that. All of these girls are athletes first and all of them get it."
Adds Kurkul, "We don't win off of home runs or one big hit from one person. We have all of our players coming in and contributing. I think we have proven we are not just a one person or two person team here. We are a solid all-around team."
Believe it or not, there some pessimists who believe the Trojans will have a hard time repeating last year's success. How anyone can honestly think that is a mystery. A loss to Silver Lake earlier in the season, and the departures of Shaw and first baseman Holly Greet from last season, have no affected this team's quest.
"I think we are just as good, if not better than last year," Dawson said. "We know what it takes to get to a state final now. Last year we were just having fun with it. This year we are still having fun but all of us are hungry for it again. Everyone here has tasted that success and now we want more."
No doubt, the Trojans are a team with a large target firmly planted on their backs. Every team on the schedule would love nothing more than to beat the like Silver Lake did. Dawson admits she prefers being the hunted rather than the hunter.
"You get into that villain position," Dawson said. "You are the team everyone loves to hate because we win. And when you win throughout your whole career here everyone else just wants to shut you up. I get that. But I like having people not like me or my team. To me, it's a compliment."
Since Dawson and Kurkul arrived on the scene here in 2012, B-R has gone an incredible 84-7.
Dawson and Kurkul both insist they do not want to think about the day when this team breaks up and everyone goes their separate ways, including them. Needless to say, each will need to purchase an unlimited text package for their cell phones as to remain in touch with one another. But the two have had discussions about life after college.
"Someday the both of us want to coach a 12U team," said Dawson. "We want to win regionals and states and all that jazz. The two of us have talked about it a million times. That's the dream down the road."
Right now though, the dream for B-R is to win another state crown. One month from now, that dream could turn into reality one more time for the Trojans. Behind Dawson and Kurkul, don't bet against them.