No. 8 NFA rides fast start to 6-1 softball win over Fitch
Norwich — The Norwich Free Academy softball roster has, at times, had as many as six or seven seniors, coach Bryan Burdick was saying Friday afternoon. Never, never only one.
Luckily for the Wildcats, many of their juniors are now in their third year as starters, thrown into the mix as freshmen and successful, at that, since the first moment they stepped on the field.
Also in their favor, the lone senior: all-state catcher Shea Gendron.
Gendron, in the midst of helping junior Bailey Comeau and sophomore Sophia DiCocco acclimate as starting pitchers following the graduation of star pitcher Beth Fleming a year ago, also smoked a two-run home run over the center field fence in the first inning Friday to spark a four-run rally in what went down as a 6-1 NFA victory over rival Fitch.
Gendron, who fouled a ball off her foot Wednesday against East Lyme, took the day off from catching Thursday against Waterford to let her injury heal, but thought she had her best day of the season hitting. She continued that into her first at-bat against Fitch, teeing off on a 3-0 pitch.
"I was really patient (in the first inning). I waited for my pitch and I got it," said Gendron, who finished 1-for-3. "Props to her (after that). She kept me off balance. I wanted more and I just blew it. But the first time, she left one over by accident. I liked it."
Gendron, as she usually does, also contributed her all-out hustle for the eighth-ranked Wildcats (4-1, 2-0 Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I). She closed the game by scrambling to pick up a chopper in front of the plate by Fitch's Karly Morales and firing to first for the final out.
Meanwhile, she caught a five-hit, 15-strikeout performance by Comeau.
"I'm having a lot of fun catching for them," Gendron said of Comeau and DiCocco. "They make me happy. When they do something good, I feel so proud. Because I call my own game, when they hit their spot, when they get that popup, I feel so proud. I feel like their mom.
"I haven't really caught for them before, so we're always talking about, 'What do you feel like you can get them out on?' ... (The juniors) have been really reliable. They've always done their job."
In the first inning, Julie Vincent reached on a single. Gendron, the cleanup hitter, came up with two outs against Fitch sophomore pitcher Ellie Hohlfelder and made it 2-0, with her blast scoring Vincent, the first of four straight NFA hits.
Alex Burdick singled and freshman Alicia Abde, the Wildcats' left fielder, doubled to the gap in right-center field to drive in Burdick. Comeau's double scored Abde to make it 4-0.
Burdick, Abde and Comeau each had a pair of hits for NFA, which added single runs in the second on an RBI groundout by Sara Cote and in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by DiCocco. Comeau raised her record to 3-0.
"They've grown up more from last year to this year than they did from freshman year to sophomore year," Burdick said of NFA's juniors, six of whom start. "I'm seeing leaders out there. I'm seeing discipline out there. They're putting in the effort to be complete players."
Fitch, meanwhile, which graduated seven seniors last season who had been to state championship games in three of their four seasons, dropped to 0-3 overall, 0-1 in the division, with a tough early-season slate and what first-year coach Kyle Baron calls the toughest schedule in the state overall.
Fitch faces Cheshire, ranked sixth in the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register top 10, at home Saturday and travels to fourth-ranked Masuk on Tuesday.
The Falcons played errorless defense behind Hohlfelder, turning a double play in the third inning and getting a running catch of a foul ball by catcher Olivia Travers.
"We played all these teams. We're going to be right there," Baron said. "The first three games, I'm playing around with the lineup. Every single game I've had a different lineup. We've played a lot of different kids.
"... This dugout is positive. We're here for each other. We are a family. We have a lot of talent on this team."