Athlete of the Month: `Diamond dreams come true for St. A's BickfordBy ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
June 20. 2018 10:22PM
Amanda Bickford grew up watching the NCAA softball tournament, dreaming of playing for the national championship.
Bickford’s aspiration came to fruition last month. The senior outfielder from Salem helped the St. Anselm College softball team reach the NCAA Division II Softball Tournament, where the program reached its first ever national title game.
Bickford, St. Anselm’s leadoff hitter, batted .395 (17 of 43) with seven runs scored, five RBIs and one walk in May, helping the Hawks march through the NCAA East Regional, Super Regional and national tournaments.
For her contributions to St. Anselm’s run to the national championship game, Bickford was chosen as the May Apple Therapy Services/Bedford Ambulatory Surgical Center/Express MED Athlete of the Month by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.
“It was an unbelievable season,” Bickford said. “To be able to say we got to play in the national championship game, it was crazy….It was a really cool experience for us getting all the recognition we did. Even though we did lose, it was cool to see that and great to be able to go with this team to the national championship.”
The Hawks’ road to the national title game began in the NCAA East 2 Regional. St. Anselm defeated Merrimack College and Southern New Hampshire University to reach the regional final.
The Hawks beat Merrimack again, 4-3, in the regional final to reach the Super Regional. Merrimack led, 3-1, before the Hawks brought home three runs in the fourth inning. Bickford put St. Anselm ahead for good with a double that scored Madison Borrelli and Shannon McLaughlin.
Bickford said the Hawks never doubted they would come back to beat Merrimack even after the Warriors built a 3-0 lead in the opening frame.
“We’d been doing it all season,” Bickford said. “If we go down, never count us out.”
Thanks in part to Bickford’s timely double, St. Anselm advanced to its first ever Super Regional. The Hawks beat LIU Post, 3-1, in Game 1 of the best-of-three Super Regional on May 17 and followed up with a 5-0 triumph in Game 2 the next day to advance to the national tournament in Salem, Va.
Bickford logged a combined three hits and two runs scored in the two Super Regional wins.
“Once I got that first hit, it kind of got me on a little roll,” Bickford said. “They pitched the same pitcher (both games) so I kind of fed off that and also my teammates, too. When someone ahead of me gets a hit, now it’s like, ‘All right, I need to get a hit and keep it rolling.’”
Bickford brought her hot bat to Salem, Va., where she collected eight hits over the Hawks’ five tournament games, earning a spot on the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.
The Hawks, who Bickford said considered themselves the underdogs throughout the tournament, defeated No. 8 Southern Arkansas twice and No. 25 St. Leo University to reach the best-of-three national championship series against Southern Indiana.
Bickford said her favorite win in the national tournament was the Hawks’ 4-3 comeback triumph over St. Leo on May 25. St. Anselm scored two runs in the seventh inning to earn the victory.
Bickford started the Hawks’ seventh-inning rally with a leadoff single, marking her third hit of the game. She came home to tie the game when classmate Megan Murrell hit a single to left field. Shannon Colson, a sophomore from Rochester, drove in the game-winning run from third base with a suicide squeeze bunt.
“I was able to start that inning off and get on base and I feel like that we just kept rolling off of that,” Bickford said. “Meg hit me home and Colson came in to put down a perfect suicide. Like, who does that — put down a suicide to win a game?”
Bickford ended her St. Anselm career with a combined three hits, two RBIs and a run scored in the team’s two losses to Southern Indiana in the national championship series. She recorded two doubles, two RBIs and a run scored in her final game: the Hawks’ 8-3 loss in Game 2 of the series.
Bickford graduated this spring with Hawks’ all-time hits record (237) and single-season hits record (88), the latter of which she set this past season.
“It was a great way to end my career,” Bickford said. “It’s where I wanted to end it. It’s where everyone wants to end it — at the national championship….I was OK with the loss. I was able to help our team out, hit some runs in. We weren’t shut out.
“It was great to be able to go out with a bang.”
Other athletes considered for the May award were University of New Hampshire weight thrower Michael Shanahan, Winnacunnet of Hampton track athlete Billy Powers, Boston College women’s lacrosse player Dempsey Arsenault, New England College men’s lacrosse player Matt Richard, Pinkerton Academy of Derry girls’ lacrosse player Lauren Lisauskas and Southern New Hampshire University baseball player Tom Blandini.
Shanahan, a graduate student from Dover, won the hammer throw, placed fifth in the shot put and eighth in the discus at the America East Championships last month. He won the hammer throw with a conference-record distance of 220 feet, 9 inches.
Powers, a senior, won the 110-meter hurdles in state record-tying time (14 seconds) and also won the 300-meter hurdles in division-record time (37.98 seconds), repeating as state champion in both events at the NHIAA Division I championship meet on May 26.
Arsenault, a junior from New Hampton, recorded 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) and 23 draw controls on Boston College’s NCAA Division I tournament run, which ended with a 16-15 loss to James Madison in the national championship game.
Richard, a senior from Weare, logged 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) over two North Atlantic Conference and two NCAA Division III tournament games for the Pilgrims. New England College won the NAC title for the third consecutive season this past spring.
Lisauskas, a sophomore, tallied 48 points (28 goals, 20 assists) over an 8-1 end to the regular season and a Division I quarterfinal win for Pinkerton last month.
Blandini, a sophomore from Bow, batted .284 (19 of 67) with a home run, 14 RBIs, 11 runs scored and four walks over a 14-1 May campaign for the Penmen that included an NCAA Division II Championship tournament appearance.
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Previous 2018 winners: January, Jaylen Leroy, Manchester (basketball); February, Warren Bartlett, Loudon (indoor track); March, Connor McGonagle, Danville (wrestling); April, Bobby Cliche, Stratham (baseball).
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To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at email@example.com and enter “Athlete of the Month” in the subject line.
Athlete of the Month recipients are honored at the annual Leaders: A Celebration of Sports Champions event held in February.