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The East Haven softball team was almost counted out as a serious threat following a 5-4 start to the 2014 season. The Easties lost early games to Cheshire, Amity, Sacred Heart Academy, and North Haven before bouncing back with 15 wins in 17 games for the rest of the season.
The result was East Haven's second consecutive 20-win season, falling just shy of last season's squad that notched 21 victories. One thing this team did that last year's didn't, however, was reach the Class M State Tournament championship game.
"If you told me that this year's team would get to the final and last year's team wouldn't, I would've said that'd have been reversed," Head Coach Ed Crisafi said.
This squad, though, was able to win the gritty games, displaying great defense behind ace pitcher Talia Loda. Oh the hill, Loda pitched to a 15-6 record with a 1.24 ERA and 160 strikeouts in 154 innings. She also allowed just 93 hits and 19 walks on her way to taking home a lot of hardware.
Loda was named to the New Haven Register All-State and All-Area teams, the CHSCA All-State team, and was also an All-Oronoque team member. Loda also played in two postseason All-Star games-the CHSCA All-Star Game and the Umpire's Scholar Athlete All-Star game-the latter of which she received MVP honors. She was also East Haven's team MVP as her maturity on the hill kept a lot of runs off the board.
"She always kept her cool and never changed her facial expression," Crisafi said. "Nothing fazed her, nothing bothered her, and she was the reason why we did what we did, without a doubt."
Despite its great season, East Haven has still yet to accomplish its ultimate goal of an SCC or a state championship. The Yellowjackets lost in the first round of the SCC Tournament to Mercy 3-2 in extra innings and fell to Seymour 2-0 in the Class M final.
"The odds weren't with us. Tal pitched a one-hitter and got beat so what are you going to do?" Crisafi said of the Class M loss. "We made two errors and they both cost us, but all in all, it was a great ride. It was a fantastic group of seniors with great leadership and it was tough to see this season end that way, especially for them."
The reason it was such an emotional loss was because of how close Crisafi and the girls were with one another. The five senior captains-Loda, Jenna Gaudioso, Alyssa Apuzzo, McKenzie Miessau and Marissa Vittorio-bonded everybody together throughout the year, helping mold the entire group into one big family.
"It was very tough because we became very close. Little things that we did made this a tight-knit group. Every time we'd win a game, we would get ice cream and, at the end of the year after we beat Valley and Griswold, we invited all the kids over my house and cooked them hot dogs and hamburgers. It was things that we do together that I'm sure other teams don't do," Crisafi said. "Besides the kids, I had a great set of parents that were very supportive. It was just a family-type atmosphere team and I'm going to miss it."
The Class M championship loss was disheartening, but Crisafi didn't dwell on it for too long. He talked about all the positives that his squad accomplished this season, including beating both Amity and Cheshire for the first time in his 21-year coaching career. He enjoyed how Loda, Laura Anderson and Kara Hanson all combined to throw 16 shutouts collectively in East Haven's 20 wins. Although many will remember how the Yellowjackets almost won the Class M title, Crisafi sees how this was yet another bridge year to becoming an elite softball program.
"It's no longer North Haven's division. It's our division. Teams are going to be looking to get us," he said about the Oronoque. "The program is there. Now we're mentioned with the best teams so there's no reason not to keep it up."
Award winners for the Yellowjackets aside from Loda were Gaudioso, Apuzzo and Allie Luzzi all being named to the All-Oronoque squad, Gaudioso receiving the Coaches' Award, and Vittorio earning the Sportsmanship Award.
Luzzi will be one of the brightest bats returning next season as she led this year's squad with a .444 average and 24 runs scored. Clutch Giovanna Russo, who was second on the team with 17 RBI, is expected to be East Haven's power bat. Anderson, Hanson, Brianna Ruggiero and Casey Smith will be the four battling it out to replace Loda on the mound.