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Waterford - Coach Liz Sutman is fond of telling her Waterford High School softball team to play "from the first pitch to the last pitch."
If the players choose to interpret it literally the way they did Monday afternoon, picking up a victory on a game-winning single by Elaina Sullivan in the bottom of the seventh inning - on the game's last pitch - that's OK with her.
The Lancers won a key early-season matchup in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division, scoring three times in the seventh to upend previously unbeaten East Lyme 6-5.
"East Lyme really wanted to win that game and that made us really want to win the game. We got angry," Sullivan said. "Plus we were coming off a loss (to top-ranked Rockville on Saturday)."
East Lyme, which scored all five runs in the third inning, handed pitcher Erica Hill a 5-3 lead headed to the bottom of the seventh. The first two hitters, Claire Hurley and Sara Buscetto, reached on singles before Hill then asserted herself, striking out No. 3 batter Jodi Weiss and getting cleanup hitter Katelyn Haff to pop up.
That brought up sophomore Sarah Pacheco, who was previously 0-for-2 with a sacrifice bunt. Pacheco quickly got down 0-2 against Hill. Sutman called Pacheco over for a conference.
"I told her, 'You have nothing to lose,'" Sutman said.
On Pacheco's first pitch back in the batter's box, Hurley and Buscetto executed a double steal to move the runners to second and third. Sutman said maybe that changed Pacheco's outlook as to what a base hit could do.
She promptly blooped a two-run single to right field, with the ball glancing off the glove of East Lyme second baseman Shae Crosby, who very nearly made a spectacular game-saving catch.
Pacheco took second on the play. Sutman then used Hannah Swanson to pinch run for Pacheco and it was Swanson who scored the winning run when Sullivan, who was moved down in the batting order because she had been slumping, laced a single to right.
Sullivan, who also had the windshield of her car broken during the game on a foul ball, finished 3-for-4.
Waterford, the defending division champion who graduated a pair of all-state players in pitcher Kelli Connors and shortstop Alyssa Hancock, is 6-2 overall, 4-0 in the Large.
The Lancers, previously ninth, dropped out of the New Haven Register state coaches' poll Monday following the 5-0 loss to Rockville.
East Lyme is 6-1 overall, 3-1 in the division.
"It's a tough way to lose," said East Lyme coach Judy Deeb, whose team made five errors behind Hill. "We made a lot of mistakes in the field. We also didn't get any clutch hits ... and they came through when they needed to. That's the difference in the game.
"I'm still proud of my kids. I wouldn't trade them for anyone in the world. We'll be back. Don't worry."
Waterford took the early lead with three runs in the first, getting an RBI double by Weiss among the highlights. The Lancers, though, had only two more hits off Hill prior to the seventh and ran into double plays in two straight innings.
Meanwhile East Lyme, which chased Waterford senior Megan Spellman in her first start of the season - back after suffering a chip fracture in her pitching hand - then scattered just four singles in four innings off sophomore left-hander Tori VanCleave.
The Vikings batted around in the third, getting a two-run single by Samantha Horner to lead the way.
"Every game's big in the conference this year," Sutman said. "We have a completely different team, so many different faces in our lineup.
"... Next time we play (East Lyme), it will be a completely different game. We were off fundamentally today and East Lyme, usually it's hit and you know the plays are going to be made. They were off, too. Fortunately for us, Sarah had a moment, a moment bigger than a sophomore."