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West Haven — Fitch, apparently, doesn't believe in settling into a game.
The Falcons have scored in the first inning many times this season, including two in the first inning of their previous matchup, a state quarterfinal victory over Maloney. And there they were again Wednesday afternoon at Frank Biondi Field.
Sophomore ace pitcher Caroline Taber retired Lauralton Hall without a hit in the top of the first and Fitch High School, the No. 1 seed in the Class L state softball tournament, came to bat.
Jackie Lewis led off with a home run over the left field fence. One batter later, Caroline Taber homered again.
Fitch went on to beat No. 5 Lauralton 8-4, advancing to the state championship game against No. 19 Sacred Heart Academy at 7 Friday night also in West Haven. Sacred Heart shut out No. 10 Berlin 7-0 in the second game of the semifinal doubleheader.
"I told them just to try to make a statement," Fitch coach Arielle Cooper said of the early start. "Show them that we are the No. 1 seed, that we deserve to be the No. 1 seed."
"I don't think I've ever jumped so high as when Caroline hit hers," said Lewis, who added another solo shot to lead off the third on a towering fly ball to center field. "We showed them what we're going to bring and let them know they're going to have to bring it one step better."
Lewis' second home run in the third made it 3-1 and Fitch tacked on five runs in the fourth inning to make it 8-1.
From then on, the game couldn't go fast enough for Cooper - "It was taking literally forever," the coach said.
The Falcons (25-1) will play in the first state championship for the program since 2009, Cooper's senior year, when Fitch topped previously unbeaten Masuk. Cooper, who turned 23 years old in April, took over as interim coach this season while head coach Kate Prpich was on maternity leave.
"I'm overjoyed," Cooper said, smiling, of reaching the final. "I'm like a proud parent of 16 teenage girls."
Taber finished by allowing six hits and only one earned run, striking out seven and walking four. She fought off a hulking Lauralton Hall lineup which Cooper said first base coach Bob Peruzzotti noticed looked more like a basketball team. The Crusaders were 17-3 during the regular season.
In the fourth inning, there were two outs when Fitch No. 9 hitter Cassie Woods blooped a hit to right-center. Lauralton walked Lewis intentionally after her first two at-bats resulted in home runs and Jo Hobert then drew a walk to load the bases.
Taber walked to force in a run and freshman Jayden Delaporta followed with a two-run single up the middle to make it 6-1 and chase Lauralton starting pitcher Haley Congdon from the game. Freshman Taylor Wolfgang promptly greeted new pitcher Kaitlyn Mingione with a two-run double to right-center for a seven-run lead.
Lauralton added a run in the fifth on a groundout by Jackie Brewster and two in the sixth on a hit, a walk, an error and a wild pitch before Taber struck out the final two hitters in the inning to end the rally.
Lewis, Fitch's shortstop and elder statesman, as the team has no seniors, finished 3-for-3 with two RBI and three runs scored.
"She has a fantastic swing. She deserves as many home runs as she can get," Taber said of Lewis before being asked what it means to reach the state championship game. "… Oh, my gosh. I can't wait. Playing for a championship for your state is amazing."