No. 1 Fitch wins second Class L softball title in three years
West Haven — It's not that Caroline Taber is in a hurry to graduate from Fitch High School. She's been wistful of late, writing her initials in the dirt of the pitcher's circle, soaking in all the sights and sounds of her senior season as the Connecticut Gatorade Softball Player of the Year.
But Taber certainly ended her career pitching like she was on her way to extinguish a fire.
Following a one-hitter in the Class L state tournament semifinals earlier in the week, Taber unloaded a four-hitter in the championship game Friday night at Frank Biondi Field.
Top-seeded Fitch scored two runs in the first inning and blanked No. 2 Masuk 2-0 to finish 27-0 for the first time in program history, with the Falcons winning their second championship in the last three seasons.
The game lasted 1 hour, 13 minutes. The celebration in right field lasted almost as long.
“I think it's almost, you don't want to lose that sense of control,” said Taber of her rush to deliver the ball to catcher Taylor Wolfgang, at one point receiving the ball back from the catcher and jogging back to her spot. “If you take too long, they'll call timeouts to talk to the batter or something.
“I had that sense of urgency. I wanted to keep pitching to these players.”
Taber, who led the Falcons to the title game in each of the last three seasons, was named the game's Most Valuable Player. She struck out 11, walked none and retired Masuk's first 11 batters before allowing a bloop single to Maggie Lebinski.
Afterward, Fitch coach Arielle Cooper posed for a photo with former teammates Aubrey Latham (her assistant coach) and Brittany Duclos, who were members of Fitch's 2009 Class LL state championship team which also defeated Masuk.
Fitch won the 2014 title with Cooper as interim coach, beating Sacred Heart of Hamden 3-1. The Falcons made it back to the championship game last year — Cooper was an assistant on that team — falling 4-2 to East Haven despite entering the game unbeaten.
The Falcons have been ranked first in the GameTimeCT/New Haven Register top 10 poll this year since a 2-0 win over perennial power Southington on April 25 and this week were ranked 17th nationally in the USA Today Super 25.
“It's been a long three and a half months,” Cooper said. “I'm stressed out. I'm tired. I could probably go a few days without eating. But it's a good moment for all of us. … It's good for the Fitch community.”
Fitch took a 2-0 lead in the first against Masuk freshman pitcher Sam Shiebe, drawing three walks and scoring on an RBI groundout by Jayden Delaporta and on a wild pitch. Wolfgang walked, followed by a single by Taber and a walk to Jonell Hobert to set the stage for Delaporta. Courtesy runner Casey Flax scored on the wild pitch.
Shiebe settled in to pitch a four-hitter for Masuk (20-6), which got the tying run to the plate in the seventh when Lebinski, the leadoff hitter, singled up the middle.
Taber struck out the next two hitters, however, and got the last out on a pop fly to Delaporta at first base.
“It was one of the quickest games we played. Sometimes we play two and a half hour games,” Masuk coach Leigh Barone said. “… I'm not concerned (after Fitch's two runs in the first) because of the way they hit all season. They know they can get two. But in that situation (against Taber and Fitch) they know it's hard to fight back.”
Fitch played with a shallow infield to prevent Masuk from trying to bunt its way on base. In the third inning, a ball hit by Masuk's Jenna Hall snuck through the right side of the infield, but Hall was retired at first on a throw from right fielder Nalissa Amar.
“Last year it felt too tight,” Cooper said of the atmosphere of last year's state championship loss. “Everything was held too tightly. … You have to be able to make adjustments as you go.”
“We had a different mindset this year,” Delaporta said. “It helped us tremendously.”
Taber will pitch next year for Division I Princeton. She is one of three seniors. Left fielder Mackenzie Aldridge will play basketball at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., while Amar, the right fielder, will attend Emmanuel College in Boston. Graduation is next Friday.
“I'm so excited to play at Princeton,” said Taber, a three-time all-state selection. “But this town's given me so much.”