After literally hundreds of thousands of pitches, many in cold, dank gymnasiums/indoor facilities, at all hours of the day for the last 13 years, one of the area’s most talented pitchers, Britt Hart, now knows what it’s like to be hit by a Mack Truck.
Other than maybe a pickup game, her softball career is over after graduating recently from Div. 1 Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., where she received a scholarship.
“It still hasn’t hit me that I’ll never play at that level again,” said Hart, who earned signature wins over Brown, Boston University, Providence College, University of San Diego and UNLV among her 30 career victories.
“I think when the fall comes around it’ll really hit me that I’m not going back to school,” said Hart, who grew up in North Andover. “I didn’t realize how sad I was going to be in the last game. When I hugged my parents after our last game, I just said ‘Now what?’”
,She is not alone.
,In fact, two of her former teammates as teenagers, on the talented New England Firebirds 14U team (they finished 63-4-1, including nine tourney wins) Katie Bettencourt, of Salem, N.H., and Krissy Whitley, of North Andover, recently finished off their marvelous careers this spring at UMass Amherst and Southern Connecticut State University, respectively.
All have enough softball awards and trophies to fill up an entire bedroom.
They, too, were awarded college scholarships and spent thousands of hours, practicing and playing something they loved.
“It’s hard,” said Bettencourt. “I can’t explain how much I loved playing. It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of work and sometimes it was frustrating. But I loved every minute of it.”
Players like Hart, Whitley and Bettencourt don’t come around often, which makes their exodus during the same year so amazing.
Each made a point to check out the other during the college years. And if there ever was a Mutual Admiration Society, these three stars were it.
“Katie is one of the most intense players I’ve ever played with,” said Hart, of the former Atlantic-10 Conference player of the year. “Even when we were 12, she always left everything on the field. She’s always had the will to win and is the type of player you look to in clutch situations.”
Bettencourt had two memories of Whitley that will never go away.
“I will forever remember Krissy as the girl who played with her hair down,” recalled Bettencourt. “It would be like 100 degrees down in Virginia at nationals and that girl would be playing with her hair down. I don’t know how she did it. As a player, Krissy would always hit the ball. She would always make contact. I hardly remember her swinging and missing.”
As for Hart, Whitley said she’s not only her best friend, but also played a role in her development as a hitter.
“Having a friend that was a competitor like me, it made it easier for me to stay on track,” said Whitley. “Being a pitcher, Britt made it possible for me to learn that aspect of the game which stronger developed my hitting skills. It was also entertaining when I was little to watch Britt powerhouse all of our opponents. Still to this day, Britt is someone I would rather have on my team then to ever hit against.”
The three had another common denominator, one that may have had as much to do with their individual successes as their personal work ethic.
They had dads who not only knew the game, but lent their daughters several hundred hours of instruction and support.
“My dad (Randy) has been the most influential person in my career, no question,” said Hart. “He’s supported me, motivated me, and pushed me to be the best player possible. Whether he was coaching me as I pitched in the backyard, or sending me a good luck text before my games at Bryant. He always had my best interests at heart and has always been my biggest fan.”
Bettencourt’s name, by itself, is synonymous with coaching baseball and softball in the Merrimack Valley. Her dad, Dave, who was the head coach of their Firebirds teams which ranked nationally, apparently played a pivotal role in Katie’s passion for the game.
“I probably wouldn’t be even half the hitter I was without my father,” said Bettencourt. “The amount of hours he has thrown front toss and live arm to me is unreal. Not too many fathers would do that for their kids.
“When he was my coach in travel ball he was tough on me, but he did it to prepare me for the next level,” recalled Bettencourt, who was named UMass Amherst’s Spring Female Scholar-Athlete award winner this year. “After practices when I was little, I would cry on the way home. “Eventually, I got tougher and it allowed me to not take the yelling so personally but rather take it as constructive. Little did I know how he really prepared me for UMass. He was amazing.”
While Whitley, who batted over .440 in her sophomore and junior seasons, was known for her picturesque, aggressive swing, her dad apparently had more to do with it than meets the eye.
“Without my father as a coach I would never have had the success that I ultimately had,” said Whitley, whose many honors included the Northeast-10 Tournament MVP in 2011.
“My dad had one of the most beautiful and mechanically sound swings I have ever seen and he was able to transfer that to me at a young age,” said Whitley. “With his corrective criticism, I was able to develop my game to be at a level higher than many people my age. My father never missed an opportunity to educate me with any learning opportunity.”
One misconception about Hart, Bettencourt and Whitley is that there were few if any roadblocks along the way. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Bettencourt not only struggled mightily during her freshman year, adjusting to “big-time” college ball, but she suffered an injury to her liver early in her junior season, ending her season and nullifying the momentum she had from being named Atlantic-10 co-Player of the Year as a sophomore.
Whitley not only had a difficult nursing curriculum to deal with, she also had to fight injuries her junior and senior season.
And Hart, the No. 1 pitcher on almost every team she played on through high school, had to deal with sharing duties in college ball.
“The commitment in college is incredible,” said Hart. “There are a lot of ups and downs. You have to be mentally tough.”
Hart, Bettencourt and Whitley have taken different paths since their careers ended and they got their degrees (all with honors!).
Hart is a contracts’ associate for Parexel, a pharmaceutical consulting company.
Whitley needs one more year to get her degree in nursing and currently volunteers in the emergency room at Beverly hospital.
Bettencourt has decided to stay in softball as a coach, and is currently under consideration at a few major universities as an assistant coach.
All had similar themes when it came to their playing softball. It was fun and, especially in college, very hard.
“College softball was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Hart. “It is extremely competitive and intense. When we were young and committed to playing summer/travel ball, we committed to giving up our summer weekends and making softball like our summer job.
“In college it’s very similar,” said Hart. “You sacrifice a lot when you’re a college athlete. Your sport becomes one of your top priorities; summer ball prepared us to dedicate our time to softball and showed us that we wanted to play at the top level.”
Hart, of course, had one more comment, one that her friends would agree with ... “I’m going to miss playing.”
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.
Superstars long before college Here the high school resumes of the three recent graduates, Krissy Whitley, Katie Bettencourt and Britt Hart and their incredible marks at local high schools: Krissy Whitley Four time Cape Ann League All-Star and Eagle Tribune All-Star selection at North Andover High ... Named the team's Most Valuable Player as a junior and senior ... Led the team to two Cape Ann League Championships (2006, 2007) and a North Championship (2006) ... One of the best hitters in school history with career average of .450. Britt Hart Split time between Brooks School and North Andover High ... Led NA to its best finish in school history, the state finals, as the No. 1 pitcher. Had an amazing 51-11 record and 0.53 ERA with 650 strikeouts (10.6 K's per game) ... Also hit .362 for career with 62 RBI ... Was Eagle-Tribune Player of the Year as a senior. Katie Bettencourt Four-year letterwinner for Harold Sachs at Salem High School ... State champion and state runner-up, captain, and MVP her final two years, with overall record of 85-9 ... Batted .588 with 20 RBI in her senior year, with an overall average of .468 and 93 RBI ... Three-time first-team Eagle Tribune All-Star ... Three-time first-team All-State ... Won Salem High Outstanding Female Spring Athlete in 2006 and 2008.