Wildcats shock Falcons for ECC softball title
Griswold — When Megan Weir came in to pitch in the second inning Saturday, there weren't exactly trumpets blaring.
Weir, who started in left field, had just allowed a ball to get past her, the Norwich Free Academy softball team now trailing by a run against top-seeded Fitch in the championship game of the Eastern Connecticut Conference softball tournament. Undefeated Fitch. Weir was summoned to the mound.
"I feel like sometimes I pitch better when there's pressure," said Weir, a junior. "I tried to stay lower; I had to keep (my emotions) down. Coach has been telling us we could beat them. … I just got lucky."
NFA, the sixth seed in the tournament, steamrolled its third straight opponent to win the ECC championship at Griswold High School, handing Fitch its first loss of the season, 8-4.
It did so behind the performance of a lifetime from Weir, named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Weir was not only 4-for-5 with two triples, a double and four RBI, she no-hit Fitch for 4 2/3 innings before giving up a one-out single to Jackie Lewis in the seventh.
Weir struck out nine and walked three in 5 1/3 innings of relief to earn the victory, including striking out the side in order in the fourth and fifth innings, buzzing right through the heart of a powerful Fitch lineup.
NFA scored three runs in the third inning, getting back-to-back triples from Weir and Sophia Formiglio, and clung to a 5-3 lead until scoring three more in the seventh on a three-run triple by Weir.
The Wildcats (18-5) finished with 14 hits off formidable Fitch sophomore Caroline Taber, capping a tournament in which they also defeated 2013 finalists Waterford (14-4, first round) and East Lyme (6-0, semifinals) after losing to both during the regular season. It's NFA's first title and first championship game appearance since 2007.
NFA lost to Fitch during the regular season, 7-1 and 8-2, finishing third in the ECC Large Division.
"It was pretty intense," Weir said of the tournament win. "We've been playing pretty well the past week."
"I'm elated," NFA coach Bryan Burdick said. "I told the girls, 'I can't think of anything to say other than, I'm truly proud of you.' … I don't think it's set in yet. Two years ago we were 8-12. Last year we were 10-9 in the regular season. We've been out of tournaments after a single game. When Fitch went up 3-2, they didn't crumble. They continued to play the way they've been playing."
NFA led 2-0, getting a pair of unearned runs off Taber, one in the first on an RBI single by Weir and one in the second on a dropped fly ball.
Fitch (22-1) got three in the second on a bases-loaded single to left by Lewis (3-for-4) that dribbled by Weir, but NFA unloaded four hits in the third, as well as a suicide squeeze bunt by Emily Arico, to retake the lead.
"I think, from my perspective, we didn't come to play today at all," Fitch coach Arielle Cooper said. "The errors we made early set the tone; that sets the tone for most games. They were holding on to this (being undefeated) a little too much. The girls were definitely second-guessing themselves in the box. And NFA came out swinging."
Cooper, whose team is the top seed in the Class L state tournament and will begin play in the second round Tuesday, reminded reporters that when she was a senior at Fitch in 2009, the Falcons lost the ECC tournament crown to Waterford and went on to win a state championship over Masuk, the state's No. 1-ranked team.
"Five years ago, I was them," Cooper said. "… After a season like this, it took us a while to lose, they were up at the top. Everybody needs a reality check sometimes. If we can lose one game all season, I'll take it."
Brianne Brennan and Shaina Beatrice each added a pair of hits for NFA, which is the No. 10 seed in the Class LL state tournament and will play No. 23 Norwalk at home Monday.
Burdick joked that until this season Weir had spoken "three words to me," but has been the one to urge her teammates to play the same regardless of the opponent, giving the Wildcats a measure of consistency as they've run off eight straight victories.
"They were playing with house money," Burdick said of meeting Fitch. "They were the six seed playing against the 1 seed. Those girls went out there and gave it their all."
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