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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Pressure is no problem for NFA in 7-3 win over East Lyme for ECC DI softball title

    NFA’s Madison Waltke (1) celebrates her home run with Coach Athena Jaskiewicz during a softball game against Killingly on April at DePina Field in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    NFA’s Sophia Miner (8) steals home plate between teammate Madison Waltke (1) and Killingly’s catcher Jayden Durand during a softball game on April 13 at DePina Field in Norwich. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Griswold — Norwich Free Academy coach Athena Jaskiewicz admires the way her team plays under pressure, the way it did in Thursday night’s Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I softball championship.

    The second-seeded Wildcats trailed 3-0 after a half inning before coming back to beat No. 4 East Lyme 7-3.

    East Lyme knocked off No. 1 seed and three-time defending champion Waterford 2-1 on a home run in the eighth inning by lefty cleanup hitter Grace DuBrava in Wednesday night’s semifinal game before sending eight batters to the plate in the first against NFA.

    “That doesn’t faze us. I mean, we perform better under pressure,” said Jaskiewicz, in her third season as the Wildcats’ head coach. “Right after our huddle after we went back in to hit (in the first), they knew what to say, they knew what to do. We said, ‘No more. That’s it.’ So that was it.

    “It’s really incredible the amount of pressure that we play under and these kids just perform like it’s nothing.”

    NFA took the lead for good, 5-3, with four runs in the third inning and added a two-run homer from Most Outstanding Player Madison Waltke in the fourth. Waltke, the Wildcats’ third baseman, had two hits and three RBI for NFA (14-8).

    NFA fell to Waterford in last year’s ECC championship game, 3-1.

    “We worked four years for this and we finally got here and I just couldn’t be more proud of us and especially our seniors,” said Waltke, a senior who is headed to play for Division I Quinnipiac beginning next season. “We grinded so hard and we’ve come so far and so close every time. We finally got it this time.”

    Waltke said she’s “never felt a better feeling in my life” than running around the bases following her homer. It was her eighth home run of the season, but one to help lift her team to a win in the ECC championship was something special.

    “It was like what little me dreamed of when I was little,” Waltke said. “Feeling that was just so incredible.”

    Waltke was in attendance Wednesday to see East Lyme’s dramatic win in the eighth.

    “You couldn’t miss that one,” she said, then commenting on the fact her team didn’t come unglued after East Lyme’s three-run rally in the first. “You can’t. You’ve got to go in strong. When you face adversity, you’ve got to battle back.”

    The Vikings immediately took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Abby Robinson reached on an error and Ava Korineck followed with an infield single. With two outs, No. 5 hitter Karly Sorrentino hit a towering double to left field, scoring courtesy runner Summer Stefanelli and Korineck.

    Kinzie Donohue walked and Natalie Knowlton singled up the middle to score Sorrentino.

    In the bottom of the inning, NFA got one run back on a sacrifice fly by Waltke, scoring Sophie Miner, who reached on a leadoff bunt single.

    The Wildcats then flipped things in their favor in the third, with four runs on four hits, taking a 5-3 lead. Aubrey Martin, Waltke and Melina Graziano singled in succession, with Graziano driving in the first run of the inning.

    After an out, Ava Boenig dunked a two-run double over first base to make it 4-3. Boenig took third on a wild pitch and scored on a ground ball by Melainey Tackling for the fifth run.

    Waltke drilled her two-run homer to left in the fourth.

    Miner, Martin and Graziano also had two hits each for NFA and pitcher Hailey Smith allowed just one hit after the first inning, four in all, for the victory.

    East Lyme is 16-7.

    “It was very emotional,” East Lyme coach Judy Deeb said of the semifinal win over Waterford. “It took a lot out of us, I think, but you know, (NFA) is a really good team. They hit us well and they’ve always hit us well. We don’t match up well with them. But you’ve got to give them credit.”

    In the semifinals, NFA edged Fitch 2-1, getting the game-winning sacrifice fly from sophomore Amelia Driscoll.

    Then, playing in the last of four ECC semifinals on the day, East Lyme trailed Waterford 1-0 headed to the seventh, forcing extra innings when Knowlton tripled and scored on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Avery Stadler, setting the stage for DuBrava. Robinson pitched a three-hitter and struck out 12 for the Vikings.

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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