May 25—LAWRENCE — Thiana Brito started late and learned the game the old-fashioned way. There were no private lessons or exclusive travel teams in grammar school, just hours of hard work.
People noticed. Coaches noticed. and for that, the Lawrence High senior is truly grateful.
Now, she may never stop smiling. Deep into her final high school season, the Lancers' shortstop received and accepted an offer to play at Merrimack College. Yes, Division 1 Merrimack!
"Being a senior, my time was running really, really short, and I honestly didn't think I (had a chance to play college ball)," said Brito. "Lawrence is not known to have a strong softball team. I didn't think anyone out there would even notice me. I love this sport. It was definitely a big surprise and shock to me when people started to notice the work I put in. I love that people started to notice it."
Still, despite the fact that the schools are on the same street, separated by just over two miles, it took a near-miracle for Warriors' coach Elaine Schwager to find Brito.
Haverhill High coach Kara Mellilo was that miracle worker.
When she heard that Merrimack was at the top of Brito's list, the former Warrior infielder gave Schwager a call. A few days later, Andover High coach Rick Quattrocchi did too.
And when Brito drove up Route 114 for a Merrimack doubleheader and met the Warrior coach between games, both parties were sold.
"I'm so excited. I didn't think I would be able to play in college," Brito said. "I was late on it. A lot of girls who get recruited do work on it for years. I didn't know that was something you had to do.
"It's definitely a challenge, but I'm definitely willing to work up to it. I'm coachable. I'm willing to do the work to get to that level. I'm always willing to learn. I'm always willing to put in that work. (Schwager) wants players willing to work to get to that level. and that's me."
The captain Brito has been an absolute godsend for first-year coach Nardi Lawrence and the Lancer program. Getting a late start in the game forced Brito to develop an unmatched dedication and work-ethic.
"I played at Mount Vernon Park in seventh and eighth grade, and that really got me started," said Brito, who played varsity at LHS as a freshman and then was introduced to travel softball with the Seacoast United program.
"The girls I play with on my travel team will always say how they started playing when they were just walking, starting in second grade, third grade. Definitely, I started really late. I think it's helped me have the drive that I have."
On the field, she's been sensational this spring, batting .558 with three homers and 16 RBIs on a team that was winless until Tuesday night's victory over Georgetown High. Off the field, she is equally invaluable.
"She's an incredible leader, just incredible," said coach Lawrence. "She's always there, setting the example, always rooting her teammates on. I wish I had 12 of her."
Brito is probably her toughest critic, too.
"Especially coming back from junior year, my hitting was a little rocky. It was OK, but definitely not the standard I wanted," said Brito, who will study education with an eye on someday teaching. "Come senior year my goal was to hit the ground running. My hitting has been good, it's always been a strength. and it's just about going out there and having fun with my team. I'm definitely trying to become a leader for them, making sure I'm a player they can look up to."
As much as her impact has been felt over her career, Brito knows that eyes are on the future here. She's doing her part for that, too.
"I try to keep my head up, even though we do lose a lot," she said. "These girls still make progress, and they're still working really hard. I think that's what drives me the most. All these girls put in the effort. They have fun. They have passion, and that's what means the most."