NFA softball team continues to pound opponents

Groton — It was just as the game was about ready to get started last week and Norwich Free Academy coach Bryan Burdick delivered some news to his shortstop, Sara Cote: you're batting leadoff.

Cote, usually the Wildcats' No. 3 hitter, was immediately nervous.

"That's a lot of pressure," she said, recalling the moment. "You decide what happens (in terms of momentum). He told me right before I went up to bat."

"'Don't approach it any different than any other at-bat,'" Burdick said of the advice he gave her, just before Cote homered. "She absolutely launched it."

On Tuesday, Cote continued the trend, crushing an inside-the-park home run to center field to lead off the game as NFA dispatched Fitch 17-2 in five innings in an Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I matchup at Washington Park.

Hailee Schrader and Bailey Comeau also hit solo homers in the first inning for NFA (6-0), which pounded out 21 hits on the way to its third straight mercy rule-shortened game.

The Wildcats, ranked fifth in the state in the latest GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, have scored no fewer than 11 runs in any of their games, but will be tested three more times this week with away games at Waterford (Wednesday), East Haven (Friday) and Stamford (Saturday).

The lineup returns eight starters, six of them seniors who have signed to play next year in college, including Cote at Keene State College in New Hampshire and returning all-staters Schrader (Castleton University in Vermont) at second base and Comeau (Drew University in New Jersey), the pitcher.

Also joining that list are third baseman Julie Vincent (Rhode Island College), first baseman Brooke Gottshall (Eastern Connecticut State University) and right fielder Alex Burdick (Roger Williams).

"We really don't have a weak spot," said Cote, who was one of several of the seniors who joined the NFA varsity team as freshmen and made an immediate impact. "... We were so nervous when we stepped on the practice field that first day, terrified. It's crazy. We're having a blast."

"This team is absolutely playing with joy," Burdick said. "I've had teams that loved to play this game, but this team plays with looseness, happiness, joy. They're all just talented, focused young women. They always played like upperclassmen, even when they were freshmen. They never played like they were afraid. ... They've made me loosen up a little bit, but that doesn't mean I won't lock it down when it needs to be."

NFA, leading 3-0 after the top of the first against Fitch, batted around and scored six more runs in the second and tacked on five in the third as it pushed the lead to 14-1. Schrader, the former leadoff hitter, finished with five hits. Comeau, Vincent and Burdick each had three. Comeau, Vincent and Schrader had three RBI each.

Meanwhile, Comeau (4-0) pitched a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts, striking out the side in the second inning.

"I feel good," Comeau said. "We played in a winter league at Fastpitch Nation in Bloomfield — we played with Woodstock (Academy), maybe five from each team — that gave me an opportunity to work on my movement, too."

"She's been so loose, smiling," Burdick said of Comeau. "She possesses an equanimity I haven't seen in many of the pitchers we've had here. Bailey is just a different breed. She has a quiet intensity."

Comeau has a new catcher this year following the graduation of The Day's 2018 Softball Player of the Year in Shea Gendron. Behind the plate is Comeau's sister Brenna, a sophomore. Bailey credits her sister for being a hard worker, but has been known to shake off Brenna's signs from time to time.

"We've been getting a lot better," Bailey said with a smile. "Usually the first inning is like a trial for us."

Alison Georgetti had two hits for Fitch (1-6, 1-2), including an RBI triple, and Casey Flax had a hit and scored both runs.

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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