NAUGATUCK — Katie Alfiere fanned eight Indians batters in her return from an appendectomy, and the Hawks’ three consecutive hits to open the fifth inning provided just enough offense for Woodland (18-3) to survive a last-at-bat rally and beat Watertown, 3-2, Monday night in the first round of the Naugatuck Valley League tournament.
Leading off the fifth, with her team up 1-0, Lindsay Boland yanked a Meg Cordon offering to the left-center field fence for a standup double. Freshman Tayler Boncal followed with the biggest hit of her young varsity career, a single to center that plated Boland for a 2-0 lead. Boncal advanced to second on the throw home.
Then senior slugger Aubrey Roulanaitis showed off her opposite-field power, clanging the fence in right with a skipping double that delivered Boncal with what proved to be the game-winning run.
Typically, a three-run deficit would be insurmountable against Alfiere, the mid-60s fireballer bound for Division I Quinnipiac University. But on this night, with the Woodland ace making her first appearance since emergency surgery just 12 days earlier, the contest was in doubt until the final out.
Cordon played her own advocate, spiking a single under Alfire’s glove to open the seventh and give her team a rare baserunner.
It was then that her counterpart’s control betrayed the fatigue she conceded later. A wild-pitch ball four to Kailie Borkowski handed Watertown a two-on, none-out opportunity on which they capitalized. Mel Granger moved her teammates to second and third with a groundout, and when an Alfiere pitch that was supposed to be down and in to Trish Kowalski sailed over the head of catcher Rebecca Norton, Cordon’s pinch runner, Ali Brown sprinted from third and slid under Alfiere’s tag.
Kowalski made her at-bat even more productive by lifting a sacrifice fly to right, bringing home Borkowski and drawing her Indians within one run.
But Alfiere regrouped and struck out Brown to close the game and send the top-seeded Hawks to Tuesday’s second round, where they will face Tori Cheske, who shut out Naugatuck for the second time in three days Monday, and No. 4 Holy Cross.
“I didn’t have any pain,” said Alfiere, who last Thursday was cleared to play—as long as she could tolerate the pain—after a doctor said originally she’d be out three to four weeks. “I was probably 75 to 80 percent. I didn’t have the speed I’m used to or the movement, but it doesn’t all come back to you in a day.”
Alfiere last pitched May 10, a Monday, in a 10-4 win over Watertown that improved the Black and Gold to 15-0, at the time. She later said she was in “extreme pain” during that contest and the next evening received a diagnosis of appendicitis. By Wednesday morning, Alfiere was on the operating table, and her season, as well as her team’s, was in serious jeopardy.
The Hawks limped into the playoffs. They went 2-3 down the stretch—and might have gone 1-4, if not for Cheske’s late arrival to a May 19 game against the Crusaders, which Woodland won, 4-3—allowing 26 runs in the five games without their star pitcher, after yielding just 16 runs in 15 contests with her.
While recent valley softball discussion has centered on whether Alfiere’s absence might cost Woodland a league or state championship, Monday’s one-run affair served as a reminder that her presence doesn’t guarantee a title.
“It does help to win a tough game,” WRHS head coach Loren Luddy said. “I was proud of the way our team was able to buckle down and get those final outs. But 3-0 would have been close enough.
“Now we have to get ready for Cheske.”