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A day after ending her career with a crushing defeat in the state tournament semifinals, Waterford High School pitcher Kelli Connors got a phone call from coach Liz Sutman that helped give Connors perspective on her season and the respect she's earned during her career.
Connors, a senior right-hander, was named Gatorade Connecticut Softball Player of the Year on Wednesday, sending her and her mom Beth into tears all over again.
"I just started yelling," Connors said. "I started crying, too, and my mom started crying. My emotions were just kind of all over the place. I was really upset after the loss and I just started crying again, but different kinds of tears.
"It made me realize life is not over. My season and my career are over, but there are still definitely things to look forward to. That's how life works. You can kind of dwell on things, but not for too long."
Connors finished the season 20-2 after Tuesday's 6-2 loss to Granby Memorial. In her career she was 69-5 with two state championships. As a freshman, she was 16-1 with a 0.30 earned run average. She followed that by going 18-0 (0.28) as a sophomore and 15-2 (0.53) as a junior despite the pitching mound moving from 40 to 43 feet.
Connors will pitch next season at Division II Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Fla.
"After a record-breaking career and winning two state championships, it seems only fitting that one of the best players to ever wear a Waterford uniform is the first softball player to receive this incredible award," Waterford coach Liz Sutman said Wednesday morning.
"I am so proud of her. It is hard to imagine there ever being another competitor who loves the game more than her."
The Lancers, ranked third in the state, finished the season 24-2 with an Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division and ECC tournament title.
Heading into the state semifinal game, Connors had a 0.87 earned run average with 151 strikeouts in 137 innings, while batting .379 with one home run and 19 RBI. She is The Day's 2011 All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
Also a member of Waterford's volleyball team, Connors has maintained a 3.04 grade point average. She donates her time as a youth softball instructor, has volunteered as a physical education teacher's assistant at The Friendship School in Waterford and contributes her time on behalf of the Colby Sousa Scholarship Fund.
"She's a hard-working kid," Fitch coach Kate Peruzzotti said in the Gatorade press release. "What I admire most about her is how well she's done over the past four years - just the growth has been amazing, how she's dominated in the circle over her entire high school career.
"It says a lot about her. She's been remarkable."
Fitch's Brianna Turgeon, now playing for Fordham University, earned the last two Gatorade awards for Connecticut prior to Connors. Connors also had the opportunity last summer to see former Masuk of Monroe pitcher and Gatorade recipient Rachele Fico in action as a member of the Brakettes. Fico pitches at Louisiana State.
"Those are two amazing softball players," Connors said. "To be considered with those awesome people … I don't know how much I'm right there with them, but this is definitely an accomplishment.
"It reminds me I've had a great career at Waterford. I only lost five games but those five really hurt and two heartbreakers (in the state tournament). Our goal was to win."