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There were two trips to the batting cage earlier in the week, where the Fitch High School softball team listened to music and giggled at the coaching staff's inability to still throw fastballs.
"Aubrey Latham (2009 graduate and pitcher on the Falcons' state championship team that year) came in and I thought, 'This is going to be great,'" said Fitch freshman left fielder Cassie Woods. "And her pitch hit the ground after half a second."
Then the Falcons, who hit for an hour or so each time off live pitching and off batting machines, got to the state semifinals, homered three times and scored eight runs on the way to the state championship game.
The top-seeded Falcons (25-1) take on No. 19 Sacred Heart of Hamden (14-10) and ace pitcher Molly Flowers at 7 tonight at West Haven High School, the same site as Fitch's 8-4 semifinal win Wednesday over Lauralton Hall.
Sacred Heart has beaten four higher-ranked teams on the way to the final, including defending champion Masuk (3-1). Flowers, a senior right-hander and the winning pitcher in the 2011 state championship game, has endured more than one injury this season, including a nagging problem now with her non-throwing shoulder.
Fitch is making its first championship appearance since 2009, when 23-year-old interim coach Arielle Cooper was a senior. The Falcons beat top-ranked and unbeaten Masuk that year for the title.
"It's fun that it happened this way," Cooper said. "I wouldn't want to be in another position. I think everything happens for a reason. It's all a mindset."
There were a few differences between that senior-laden team featuring Cooper, later an All-America third baseman at Eastern Connecticut State, and Latham.
After Thursday's practice, for instance, Cooper and assistant coach Bob Peruzzotti, whom Cooper still calls "Mr. P," looked on as their players waited for rides home. There's not one senior on the Fitch roster.
"No one can drive. They're all babies," Cooper said. "We were all driving. We were cool. We'd just speed away. It's different. But it's like coach (Diana) Pepin said at Eastern, 'You're never going to be with the same people in the same moment.'"
As for the dividends paid from the batting cage, Fitch's Jackie Lewis led off the bottom of the first inning against Lauralton with a home run to left, her first of two home runs in the game. Caroline Taber, the Falcons' own ace pitcher, who struck out seven and allowed just one earned run, also hit a solo shot in the first.
Lewis, who was 3-for-3, was even intentionally walked once. Has that ever happened before?
"No. Not to me," Lewis said. "It was definitely almost like a compliment. ... It felt great (hitting at the cage). Just the constant hitting helped with our concentration."
"I think it worked," Cooper said. "Just taking swings repeatedly, making contact. We shouldn't be fixing anything right now."
Fitch's lineup features four freshmen, with first baseman Jayden Delaporta and catcher Taylor Wolfgang driving in two runs each in a five-run fourth inning Wednesday. It was also Wolfgang with the game-winning hit last week in a 4-3 quarterfinal victory over Maloney.
"I don't like to focus on age," Cooper said. "Just experience, having confidence. The girls have found that within themselves the last few weeks. ... I told them today, 'We made it.' Whatever happens now, we made it."