Published July 08. 2012 4:00AM
The two of them go back a long way, from their Waterford South team which reached the 2007 Little League Softball World Series in Portland, Ore., to a story Alyssa Hancock was telling recently about a ring her longtime teammate Kelli Connors used tell people was given to her by New York Yankees star Derek Jeter.
So who better to endorse Hancock, The Day's 2012 All-Area Softball Player of the Year, than Connors, who knows, like, everything about her friend and Waterford High School teammate for the past four years?
"Alyssa is so good," said Connors, named the Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year this season for Waterford. "She's so underrated. People don't appreciate her.
"She never gets down. Even when things are staring to catch up with me, I can talk to her and she keeps me calm and helps me relax. She's always been that person to keep everyone up. She's the best player on the team because she keeps the team glued together."
Hancock, along with Connors, won state championships at Waterford in 2009 and 2010. Hancock started at third base for three seasons before moving to shortstop this year.
At 5-foot-3, Hancock makes an art out of effort. She was awarded Waterford's Colby Sousa Memorial Hustle Award this season. Once, in the Class M state tournament quarterfinals, Hancock hit what appeared to be a pop-up to right field that dropped in; she never stopped running, turning it into a triple.
Hancock, the leadoff hitter and a co-captain for the Lancers, finished her senior year hitting .460 with five home runs, 28 RBI, 44 runs scored and 29 stolen bases. She had seven triples and six doubles, a slugging percentage of .862 and an on-base percentage of .542. She made four errors all season, giving her a fielding percentage of .952. She had 121 career hits.
Hancock received All-Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division and Class M all-state honors as the Lancers finished 24-2 and won their fourth straight ECC tournament championship. She was also a member of the All-Area team in girls' basketball this past winter, as Waterford went 21-5 and captured the ECC Medium Division title.
Here's the thing that most annoys Connors, though, and has left Waterford coaches Liz Sutman in softball and Rob Von Achen in basketball flummoxed: for all of Hancock's lustrous performances, she was never named to an All-ECC team before this season. That's despite hitting .368 as a sophomore when the Lancers were undefeated, .355 last year with 33 runs scored and averaging 10.7 points and four assists per game this year for the basketball team.
"She was like, 'Whatever,'" Connors said of Hancock being overlooked time and again.
"I get emotional. I'm going to miss that kid," Von Achen said of what she's meant to his program. "She's the epitome of what a coach wants. A coach wants an effort and she was a take-charge kid. She's a cool kid."
Hancock said she's always loved playing sports. From the time she was a little girl, her dad would throw her pop flies and taught her how to toss a football.
Sutman has long contended that if Hancock were to pick up a random sport, anything, she wouldn't count out Hancock to be the best.
"I just like playing. I don't think it matters who's the best on your team, it's how you carry yourself," Hancock said. "I just love the game. I love every part of it. Pumping people up is what I do. ... There's nowhere else I'd rather be."
Hancock will walk on to the softball team next year at Eastern Connecticut State University, where the Warriors have reached five straight Division III NCAA tournaments. There, she'll go about proving herself all over again.
"I feel like I have to prove myself to everyone I meet," Hancock said. "Coach Sutman and Mr. (Don) Connors (Kelli's dad and a former Little League coach) know how I play and that's about it. I just give it my all and hope it's the best."
Sutman knows how she plays, all right.
"In terms of being able to change a game, take over a game, what Alyssa can do offensively can't even be compared to anybody," Sutman said. "She can bunt, she can run, she can hit a home run. She's just a multi-dimensional player.
"I've had some fantastic girls; I have a great list. But there have been some really special ones this past four years. It made me love the game more because they loved it so much."