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The calendar only said May 3, but the matchup between the Morgan and Old Saybrook softball squads on this mid-spring evening had a very late-May playoff feel. Both the Huskies and Rams came into the game with identical 10-1 records and were vying for Shoreline Conference bragging rights and it was Morgan that came out victorious with the 3-0 victory behind freshman pitcher Emily Popp, who earned her 11th straight victory and maintained her sparkling 1.50 ERA, only allowing four hits on three strikeouts.
“It’s pretty surprising. I came onto this team and was expecting to be like the second pitcher or third and not get any varsity time, but I put in a ton of work in the winter and it paid off,” said Popp. “I was a little nervous going into this game, but I was way more excited to be part of a game like this. My defense did really good behind me, but there’s always room for improvement, but I think we did bring our best stuff tonight.”
Old Saybrook led off the bottom of the first with itchy bats as with one out, Emily Santamaria and senior Dana Pendleton earned back-to-back hits, but Popp and the Huskies got out of the inning with consecutive groundouts.
“We expected Morgan to hit; they’re a good hitting team and they hit at opportune times when they had their runners in scoring position,” said Saybrook Head Coach Laura Westner. “I didn’t expect the home run—Effie was ahead in the count on that one—but she missed that one pitch on a good hitter. We had a couple of early opportunities we didn’t capitalize on and I don’t know if that affected us mentally, but defensively we didn’t play terrible, but we had a couple of errors. I think they just got ahead of us.”
Junior ace Effie Gianitsos (2 strikeouts, 6 hits allowed)—who has also seen her share of success for the Rams this season, including a no-hitter earlier this campaign—shut down Morgan’s offense in the bottom half of the inning to bring up her squad in the top of the second. Laura MacLeod led off with a single and with two outs and Gianitsos reached base on an infield Morgan error, but Popp again worked out of trouble.
The Huskies broke onto the board in the bottom of the second when senior Rachel Spotts was walked to lead off and after Gianitsos forced two groundouts and Spotts stood on second, sophomore Tori Hopkins (2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored) hit an RBI single that scored Spotts to get Morgan on the scoreboard. Ashlyn Chidsey (2-for-3) then bunted to move the runner and catcher Paige Trabucchi rushed the throw, hitting Chidsey in the helmet and with Hopkins already running, she scored the second run for Morgan. Popp then walked with two outs, but Gianitsos was able to stop the bleeding.
“I think our defense carried us tonight—they were hitting those balls hard, but they were going right to people in the outfield and infielders, but I think our defense is what won us our game tonight,” said senior captain Sarah Thompson. “We were more than ready to play this team—we had the same record and there was a lot of talk about this game. There’s so much hype about Old Saybrook and when we came out and beat them, it gave us a good spot in Shorelines.”
Popp got out of the top of the third without a scathe and Gianitsos forced two pop-ups and a grounder to second in the bottom of the inning that set up Old Saybrook for some scoring opportunities in the fourth. Senior Kelsey Root led off the top of the fourth with a screaming line drive out to left field and as she rounded third, left fielder Jamie Fitzgerald threw the ball to Chidsey, the cutoff, who then relayed the ball to catcher Donaldson at home plate where Root was tagged out trying to slide around the bag. Popp then forced a pop-up and line-out to short to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, Donaldson led off with a base hit for Morgan over second base, and after Angelina Taylor came in to pinch run at first, she moved to second on Hopkins’ one-out base hit past short. After Taylor got out on the force at third after a hit from Chidsey, Gianitsos ended the inning with a strikeout of Popp.
After Popp worked through the fifth without a hitch, Morgan came back up in the bottom half of the inning and saw Thompson hit a one-out single and steal second, but she was stranded on second base when Gianitsos was able to work out of trouble.
“We literally have not trailed once this season, even on our one other loss we were ahead and then let them back,” said Westner. “This loss does hurt a lot. But we’ve got to pick up our heads and move on—I told them not to let this loss define us.”
It was the bottom of the sixth when Morgan scored another insurance run. On a 2-2 count, Jen Dawson (1-for-3 with a home run, run scored, and an RBI) led off with a home run after hitting the ball over the left fielder’s head to make it 3-0. Donaldson reached first after her pop-up was dropped at shortstop and with two on, Hopkins grounded out followed by a single from Chidsey, but Gianitsos again worked out of trouble and prevented Morgan from scoring any more runs.
Popp had a 1-2-3 top of the seventh and the Huskies celebrated their 3-0 victory on their home turf at Peter’s Complex.
“We were as even as two teams can get. We were kind of a little shocked at the beginning of the year that we didn’t get a high rating even though we went to the semis last year. In all due respect, that gave us a lot of ammunition and a lot of motivation to have people start talking about us,” said Morgan Coach Sal Fiorillo. “We scrimmaged a lot of tough teams in the preseason and we sought them out to try to make ourselves better. We really think we’re one of the teams that will compete for the Shoreline title this year. We’re ready to play.”