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NFA sends seniors out with first ECC softball tourney championship

Griswold — The pitchers both authored gems the night before. Norwich Free Free Academy's Bailey Comeau: an 18-strikeout, two-hit semifinal victory over Stonington. Griswold's Julia Janca: a semifinal shutout over Waterford, halting a 13-game hitting streak by the Lancers.

For this one, then, played Thursday for the Eastern Connecticut Division I softball tournament championship, it was time for the defenses to help out, no?

"Defense was everything," said NFA senior shortstop Sara Cote, who made one of the plays of the game, an inning-ending double play in the fifth inning to squash a Griswold rally. "No errors. No passed balls.

"We got working. We just kept going. We just kept grinding."

In addition to her defensive mastery, Cote was 3-for-3 with three runs scored and an intentional walk as top-seeded NFA won its first ECC tournament title since 2014 — the first one for this distinguished senior class — beating No. 3 Griswold 6-2.

"Bailey still had strikeouts when we needed them, but we had to make plays," NFA coach Bryan Burdick said. "Brooke (Gottshall) played tremendous first base today. Sara's double play was huge.

"You can have a baserunner three-quarters of the way up the basepath and between (Cote's) throw and Brooke's stretch, they're still out by a step. ... This was a total team effort. This was execution."

NFA led 1-0 in the first when Cote singled and scored on an RBI base hit by Sophia DiCocco.

Griswold tied it in the second when Janca doubled and scored on NFA's misplay of a sacrifice bunt by Hailey Bouchard, but NFA got two in the third highlighted by a triple by Cote and RBI by Comeau and Hannah Daniewicz to lead 3-1.

In the fifth, Griswold got a one-out triple to right by Kamryn Gurnee and an RBI single by Cheyenne Zvingilas, pulling the Wolverines within 3-2 with still only one out. Cote ranged up the middle to field a ground ball by the next hitter, however, Sarah Aviles. She tagged second and threw to Gottshall at first for the double play.

That followed some defensive mastery for Griswold in the fourth.

NFA leadoff hitter Hailee Schrader smacked perhaps the hardest-hit ball of the game seemingly over the head of center fielder Kaitlyn Davis, but Davis took off at a full sprint and caught the ball over her shoulder with her back still toward home plate. The next hitter, NFA's Julie Vincent, smashed another ball that was grabbed by a leaping Bouchard at second base.

"We had three really hard-hit balls that inning," Burdick said. "I'm thinking, 'It's going to be one of those games.'"

NFA (17-4), which piled up 10 hits but still only led 3-2, finally broke through for a big inning in the sixth. Alex Burdick drew a walk to lead off the inning for the Wildcats and Schrader dropped down a sacrifice and reached on an error which sent Burdick to third.

Vincent bunted, a squeeze play which brought home Burdick, and took second with no one covering. Cote was intentionally walked. Comeau bunted and beat it out for a hit to load the bases and Gottshall drove a sacrifice fly to left field to make it 5-2. DiCocco doubled down the left-field line to bring in Cote with NFA's final run.

Comeau limited Griswold to five hits, striking out five and walking none. She also had three hits for the Wildcats, as did DiCocco.

Griswold beat NFA 6-5 in last year's ECC championship game.

"This was our third ECC championship game. We wanted to come back and win," said Cote, who will play next season at Keene State (N.H.). "We felt the loss. We worked so hard all season for this."

Said Burdick: "They wanted this."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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