NFA and Griswold will play again for ECC Division I softball championship
Griswold — Hailee Schrader, Norwich Free Academy's all-time hits leader, fouled a ball directly off her right shin late in the game Wednesday afternoon in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I softball tournament semifinals.
It took a few minutes for Schrader to walk it off, batting with a runner on and NFA clinging to a narrow lead over resilient Stonington.
But when she did, Schrader took it upon herself to take over the game.
"I feel like it was more of an adrenaline rush," Schrader said.
Schrader singled in a run on the next pitch and later saved a run and ended the game on a diving stop at second base as No. 1 NFA held off No. 4 Stonington 4-2 to advance to the championship game against No. 3 Griswold. That game will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday at Griswold High School, following the Division II championship game at 4 p.m.
Griswold is the defending tournament champion, having beaten NFA 6-5 in last year's final. Griswold beat No. 2 Waterford 3-0 in the second semifinal of the day, ending the Lancers' 13-game winning streak.
"This is the first ball in the hole I've gotten to all year. It's just exciting," Schrader said of her game-ending play off a sharp ground ball by Stonington's Shea O'Connor. "It's usually either a hard-hit line drive and it goes by me or a hard-hit ground ball and it tips off my glove.
"I really thought (pitcher Bailey Comeau) deserved this win."
Comeau struck out 18, firing a two-hitter for NFA (16-4), which gifted her two runs in the bottom of the first inning.
But Stonington, which fought for a 9-6 win over No. 5 East Lyme in Tuesday's quarterfinal round — NFA had a bye into the semifinals — made Wednesday's matchup more than just a perfunctory appearance for the Wildcats, despite the fact NFA owned an 11-4 victory over Stonington during the regular season.
The Bears (11-11), backed by freshman pitcher Cayla Beverly, scored a run in the fourth inning on an RBI infield single by Maggie Constantine to score Miranda Arruda, pulling within 2-1.
Stonington left fielder Phoebe Werling also had a day, catching a fly ball and doubling off a runner in the third inning and reeling off a one-hop throw to home plate to beat an NFA runner trying to score in the fifth.
"I don't think our record shows how tough we are," Stonington coach Ann-Marie Houle said. "I don't think it shows our ability, our determination, our passion for the game, our teamwork. ... We talked about defense more than anything (prior to facing NFA). We've been making a lot of errors.
"But our outfield is unbelievable this year. (The plays that Werling made), that's the stuff we work on in practice ... for hours."
With one out in the sixth and a one-run lead, NFA drew back-to-back walks from Alicia Abde and Hannah Daniewicz and the runners advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. Alex Burdick placed a perfect safety squeeze bunt for the Wildcats, with Abde off for home on the throw to first base.
Schrader's ensuing base hit scored Daniewicz for a more comfortable 4-1 margin.
In the bottom of the seventh, Stonington's Maddy Stepski struck out but reached on a passed ball, Werling walked and the two advanced on a wild pitch. Stepski scored on a passed ball and Werling was on her way home from third when Schrader snagged the ground ball to end things, leaving Arruda, Stonington's leadoff hitter, on deck.
"Hailee made that play at the most opportune time," NFA coach Bryan Burdick said. "That's senior leadership. Without a doubt, she's played like a senior for four years. ... (Comeau also) did a tremendous job today. There were times it was on her shoulders.
"Teams aren't going to just roll over in the ECC tournament."
In the second game of the semifinal doubleheader, Griswold scored all three runs in the top of the first inning and left-hander Julia Janca pitched a three-hitter. Sarah Aviles, Janca and Hailey Bouchard drove in runs for the Wolverines.
Anna Donahue had two hits for Waterford (17-4).
"I was a little disappointed with the way we swung the bats. That's not indicative of the way we swung the bats all year," said Waterford coach Andy Walker, whose team had not lost since April 17 against NFA. "You go into the seventh inning and you anticipate there's still some magic left.
"We gave 'em some runs early and we deflated a little bit. They made the plays when they needed to."
• In the Division II semifinals at Veterans Field in Niantic, Samantha Fancher went 4-for-5, including a double, with three runs scored and two RBI and winning pitcher Sara Rivers allowed one hit over five innings with no runs and helped her cause with a double, an RBI and a run as No. 4 Ledyard took down top-ranked Montville 12-3.
Shailynn Williams went 4-for-4 with three runs and two RBI and Paige Perkins went 2-for-3, including a double, with four RBI for the Colonels (16-6), who will play third-seeded Plainfield in Thursday's final at Griswold. Plainfield beat No. 2 Tourtellotte 16-0 in its semifinal.
Amanda Cox added a double and an RBI for Ledyard and Samantha Money allowed no earned runs in two innings of relief. Jillian Murallo tripled and Rori Curran doubled for Montville (16-5).
No. 1 NFA 4, No. 4 Stonington 2
No. 3 Griswold 3, No. 2 Waterford 0
No. 1 NFA vs. No. 3 Griswold, 7 p.m.
At Veterans Field, Niantic
No. 3 Plainfield 16, No. 2 Tourtellotte 0
No. 4 Ledyard 12, No. 1 Montville 3
No. 3 Plainfield vs. No. 4 Ledyard, 4 p.m.
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