The Day's All-Area Softball Player of the Year: NFA's Bailey Comeau

The softball coach at Norwich Free Academy, Bryan Burdick, long defined his all-state pitcher, Bailey Comeau, with a word which outlined her unfaltering composure: equanimity.

Then came the Class LL state tournament bracket, fraught with some of the state’s most luminous players and storied programs.

“We had the toughest draw in the tournament,” Burdick was saying recently. “We played Middletown in the first round and (Dominique) Highsmith was the best offensive player on the field. She hit an absolute laser to right that went screaming through the infield. She’s going to Central (Connecticut) next year.”

Later, there was South Windsor and Gatorade Connecticut Softball Player of the Year Maria Hanchuk and Cheshire, with Providence College-bound Mia Juoditis, recently named the New Haven Register’s Female Athlete of the Year.

“And we won all those games,” said Burdick, whose eighth-seeded Wildcats reached the Class LL state championship game before falling to perennial state Goliath Southington, in part due to the equanimity of Comeau.

“… Bailey was really, for us if I’m looking at that tournament, truly she was the MVP for us.”

Comeau, a Class LL all-state selection for the second straight season who led NFA to a 21-5 record and the No. 3 ranking in the final GameTimeCT/New Haven Register Top 10 poll, was named The Day’s 2019 All-Area Softball Player of the Year — following her former catcher, Shea Gendron, who was the 2018 selection.

Comeau, who will pitch next season for Division III Drew University in Madison, N.J., was 18-3 with a 1.21 earned run average, striking out 215 in 140.1 innings and allowing hitters a .127 batting average against her. She turned in three one-hitters. She also batted .418 with 41 hits, 10 doubles, three home runs — one off Hanchuk in the state tournament quarterfinals — and 28 RBI.

She was an academic all-state selection, graduated Summa Cum Laude from NFA and plans to major in neuroscience at Drew, with hopes of someday affecting the course of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which took both a family friend and a cousin of Comeau’s.

NFA, with a senior-laden lineup, won the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I regular-season and ECC Division I tournament titles. The Wildcats went on a true roll from there.

“There weren’t many errors. We were working hard and working together. We knew we were the underdogs,” Comeau said. “We obviously played top competition. We played great athletes. We adapted. We played up to their level. We didn’t play unless we played 110 percent. We didn’t allow as many runs as we could have.

“I think there was definitely pressure. But as soon as people started to realize, ‘Oh, we stand a chance,’ we didn’t let it bother us. We knew we had the potential. We started to show it more.”

Comeau said she’s always had a sense of calm when competing, whether playing behind former all-state pitcher Beth Fleming her first two years at NFA or switching travel teams a couple of summers ago.

“If you have a runner on second or third, you just have to know you can get out of it,” she said. “You have the rest of your team behind you. You put your faith in them.”

NFA beat No. 25 Middletown 8-5 in the first round of the Class LL tournament (Comeau struck out 14) and No. 9 Fairfield Ludlowe 3-0 in the second round (she struck out 12). Comeau struck out 12 and homered to outduel Hanchuk in a 2-1 victory over top-seeded and previously unbeaten South Windsor in the quarterfinals.

Against No. 4 Cheshire in the semifinals, Comeau was cruising with a 4-1 lead in the fifth, having just extended the lead on a two-run single by Comeau.

A sharply hit ball up the middle, however, ricocheted off Comeau’s right, pitching hand (she bats left-handed), ending her evening. Comeau took three warmup pitches and threw two into the ground, later admitting she couldn’t feel her hand. NFA junior Sophia DiCocco, the left fielder, came on in relief and earned the win in a 4-2 victory which sent the jubilant Wildcats to the championship game against No. 6 Southington — their first appearance in the title game since 2007.

“I couldn’t hold on to the ball right,” Comeau said. “I leaned … I saw the ball coming at me.”

Injured on Monday, Comeau started the championship game on Saturday night. She lasted three-plus innings of the 7-6 loss, uncharacteristically walking three in the first inning and leaving the bases loaded.

She had her hand X-rayed the following week and was told it was a “deep bruise.” But there was no chance of her not trying to pitch against Southington.

“I was going to give it my all, leaving it out on the field. It was my last high school game forever. I would have been furious. We gave it everything we could,” Comeau said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our seniors. You do the best you can.”

Burdick, an English teacher, has appreciated Comeau from the moment he asked her one day early in her career how her curveball was. She replied that she was “conflicted” about her curve. Burdick smiled at her terminology.

Prior to her junior season, in which Comeau became NFA’s starter, she began taking lessons with top pitching coach Jen Hapanowicz, gaining 5 mph on her fastball, as well as a new pitch, a riseball. Hapanowicz instilled a confidence in her, she said, enough so that she earned Class LL all-state honors as a junior, picking up where Fleming left off.

Comeau completely revamped her pitching style, but was a quick study.

“I’d be nervous to try a pitch, a different pitch I wasn’t sure about, but (Hapanowicz) would say, ‘Just do it. Who cares if they get a hit. That’s how you get better,’” said Comeau, caught this season by her younger sister Brenna, a sophomore.

“I just want to do the best I can. Sometimes it is less than perfect. But I try my best to be as perfect as possible.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

The Day's 2019 All-Area Softball Team

Player of the Year - Bailey Comeau (NFA)

Infield - Sara Cote (NFA), Gina McKittrick (Waterford), Samantha Money (Ledyard), Hailee Schrader (NFA)

Outfield - Miranda Arruda (Stonington), Ciana Chiappone (Waterford), Sophia DiCocco (NFA)

Pitcher - Alexis Michon (Montville), Rachel Miller (Waterford)

Catcher - Finella Smith (New London)

Designated player - Maddie Burrows (Waterford)

Utility - Aaliyah Amidon (Ledyard), Karly Morales (Fitch)

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