NFA cools off East Lyme and wins ECC Division I softball title
East Lyme — The top of the lineup, as constructed by Norwich Free Academy coach Bryan Burdick, features all-state catcher and all-time Wildcats hits leader Shea Gendron, who now has 130 and counting.
After that it's Hailee Schrader, a junior who has earned all-state honors each of her two seasons so far.
And on down the lineup it continued Monday night, as NFA connected for 13 hits, six of them doubles, in a convincing 12-3 victory over East Lyme. That allowed the Wildcats (14-4) to repeat as Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I champions, finishing league play 8-0.
“It's one of those lineups that doesn't give many teams respite,” Burdick said. “That's what I like about our construction.”
Bailey Comeau pitched a four-hitter with 15 strikeouts. Schrader, meanwhile, was 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles, an RBI and two runs scored and Brooke Gottshall was 3-for-4 with a double and three runs scored.
The Wildcats led just 3-2 when they batted around in the fifth inning, sending 11 hitters to the plate, getting extra base hits from Gendron, Comeau and Sara Cote and taking advantage of an East Lyme error and a pair of wild pitches that pushed the margin to 9-2.
NFA took batting practice before it left for the night game, with Burdick having the bus pick his team up at the field instead of the school.
“We keep our energy after school and on to the bus and it just carried over to the game,” said Schrader, who made the move this season from center field to second base to help the realigned NFA defense. “Our whole order is very powerful.”
“The energy they have, the focus they have has been tremendous,” Burdick said. “They've matured a lot since the beginning of the season. That was one of the most energized dugouts (Monday) that we've had.”
Comeau replaced all-state pitcher Beth Fleming this season and has done so admirably, getting the Wildcats right back to where they left off a year ago, including a win over then second-ranked Southington.
“It feels good to watch her succeed,” Schrader said of Comeau. “Losing a pitcher, losing a third baseman (from last year), but we've come together as a team. We've had a lot of fun. We made it work. … It feels really good not to have to share (the ECC title). It's ours.”
While NFA was the frontrunner in the division, East Lyme (11-6, 6-2) forced its way into the conversation by winning 11 of its last 12 games prior to Monday.
The Vikings started 0-4 with difficult nonconference losses to Guilford, Granby and Hand before their first divisional game against NFA, an 8-1 loss on April 11. Coach Judy Deeb was worried about the psyche of her young team following the rough start.
Then East Lyme started winning, going from a win over New London on April 12 through last Thursday's 14-4 victory over Bacon Academy with only one hiccup, a 5-2 loss to Waterford on April 26.
The Vikings, with just one senior in catcher Alex Chambers, made five errors against NFA, which Deeb called completely uncharacteristic of her team's recent streak.
“We haven't been playing like this,” Deeb said. “We went ahead and beat Guilford, the team that beat us. The thing that defined us was our defense, which didn't define us tonight. Every ball that wasn't caught, has been caught (in the past few weeks).
“… NFA played really well. They hit the ball. They took advantage of our mistakes. (Comeau) pitched a hell of a game. They deserve the accolades at this point.”
East Lyme took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a walk to Nikki Marsh, a double by Isabel Siciliano and a pickoff throw to third which sailed into left field.
NFA came back with an unearned run in the top of the second when a ball hit by Sophia DiCocco was misplayed, allowing Gottshall to score. East Lyme made it 2-1 with an unearned run in the second and NFA got it to 3-2 with two in the third, sparked by a leadoff double from Schrader. Both teams were scoreless in the fourth, setting up NFA's electric fifth.
The Wildcats added two in the sixth and one in the seventh.
Siciliano had two hits and an RBI sacrifice fly for East Lyme in the seventh.
Stories that may interest you
Marci Glenney, who led the NFA girls' basketball team to its first two state championships in program history in 1996 and 1997, will be inducted Wednesday into the Connecticut Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
Nobody in (or out) of the Eastern Connecticut Conference could guard Waterford's JJ Brennan, evidenced by his near 25 points per game average this season. Brennan was named The Day's 2019 All-Area Boys' Basketball Player of the Year.