Freshmen help Fitch softball rally past Maloney 4-3

Groton - If the 23-year-old coach can have so much composure, the way Fitch High School's Arielle Cooper has shown, you figure it would condition the players that way, as well.

"Just knowing she's been in these situations (as a player), we take her advice," Fitch catcher Taylor Wolfgang said.

But still.

This was a doozy.

Top-seeded Fitch was down a run in the bottom of the seventh inning Friday afternoon in the Class L state softball tournament quarterfinals after giving up the lead to No. 8 Maloney in the top of the inning.

And then the Falcons (24-1) had their four freshman starters go 4-for-4, with Taylor Wolfgang delivering the game-winning single with still only one out for a 4-3 victory.

Fitch, which last won a state championship in 2009 with Cooper as its third baseman, advanced to the semifinals to meet No. 5 Lauralton Hall at 4 p.m. Monday at West Haven High School.

"It's good not to let them see you sweat," Cooper said of how her demeanor affects her players. "I'm dripping sweat right now. And I would really enjoy a cheeseburger right now. And maybe a bottle of water.

"You see coaches who scream and make a scene. I try to stay calm, stay in my corner. By talking (to the players), you can bring them back in. Let them know, 'Let's buckle down."

Cooper, for instance, questioned a call in the fourth inning Friday, a diving catch by Maloney right fielder Lindsey Massicotte on a ball hit by Wolfgang that Cooper thought rolled free as Massicotte landed.

Cooper said she was greeted by a blank stare from two umpires.

"I was like, 'I'm gonna go then,'" said Cooper, who headed back to the dugout.

In the bottom of the seventh, freshman Cassie Woods, Fitch's No. 9 hitter, drove a single over a drawn in infield to start the winning rally.

Jackie Lewis grounded out to move Woods to second and freshman Jo Hobert blooped a hit into right-center and hustled to second to give the Falcons runners on second and third with one out. Maloney intentionally walked Caroline Taber to load the bases.

Jayden Delaporta, another freshman, hit a ground ball to shortstop Ariel Virgulto which Virgulto dove to her right to stop. Woods scored the tying run, while Virgulto tried to tag Hobert on her way to third and couldn't quite make the play.

With the bases still loaded, Wolfgang hit the first pitch to right-center to score Hobert with the winning run.

"We had to keep our composure and know our bats are going to bring us runs," Wolfgang said. "When we lost the (Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament to Norwich Free Academy), we wanted to take that emotion we had and bring it to the state tournament."

Taber, Fitch's all-state sophomore pitcher, dominated the first six innings, striking out nine and allowing three hits.

In the sixth, with runners on second and third and one out, Taber got a popup on a bunt attempt for the second out and struck out the final hitter to retire the side.

In the seventh, though, Maloney's Megan Guest led off with a triple to left field and scored on a two-strike squeeze bunt by Paige Mickens-Uliase.

The Falcons got a double play on another popped up bunt, but Virgulto walked, stole second and took third on an error, scoring the go-ahead run on an RBI single by Saimara Cantres.

"I put the ball in their court," Cooper said of her team heading into the seventh. "Be smart in the box. Make adjustments. You can only prepare them so much. At this point, there's no reason for them not to be happy with what we've accomplished."

Delaporta, Wolfgang and Mackenzie Aldridge had two hits each for Fitch, which scored two runs in the first inning, also with RBI from Delaporta and Wolfgang.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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