Close-knit Greyhounds made memorable run

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The Naugatuck softball team celebrates its 4-3 win against Seymour in the Naugatuck Valley League championship game at Naugatuck High School on May 23, 2008. – RA ARCHIVE

Editor’s note: This is the final story of a month-long series commemorating anniversaries of significant moments in Woodland and Naugatuck sports history. Our final story looks at the 10-year anniversary of Naugatuck’s memorable run to the NVL softball title and the Class LL final.

Longtime Naugatuck softball coach Kevin Wesche hardly hesitated last week when reciting the Greyhounds’ starting lineup from 2008.

“Jess Russell at catcher, Necole Morrissey at first, Julia Longo at second,” Wesche started.

He kept it going with third baseman Jess Barbour, shortstop Alexis Granahan, outfielders Shelby Hale, Skye Stella, Sarah Uszakiewicz and Corinna Hussey, and designated player Melissa Salamon.

And, of course, there was the star pitcher — Wesche’s daughter, Alana.

“It was definitely special for Naugatuck softball — and being able to coach your kid, but she had a great supporting cast around her,” Wesche said. “It was a solid team, one through 10.”

The 2008 Greyhounds stand out to Wesche not just because of their Naugatuck Valley League championship — Naugy’s first since 1981 — and their captivating run to the Class LL state final, but because of how close the team was.

“They hung out together, some of them played travel ball together, (and) they were friends with Alana,” Wesche said. “They were a group I might see off the field, at the house or a birthday party or whatever.”

But when the girls were between the lines, they were the best squad Naugatuck has ever fielded on the diamond.

Naugy finished a school-record 23-4, including a 17-3 regular-season mark that at one point saw Wesche twirl back-to-back no-hitters. Naugy eventually reached the NVL championship game against a Seymour team that had won 10 consecutive league titles and owned the Greyhounds in a pair of regular-season matchups.

The Wildcats’ defense handed Naugatuck four unearned runs, including three in the third inning, and Wesche and her defense did the rest. The All-State pitcher scattered just five hits against Seymour’s potent lineup and struck out four, including the final batter of the game with the winning run on base, to lead Naugy to a 4-3 victory.

“I felt pretty confident,” Alana Wesche said after the game. “I knew that I had a strong defense behind me and a good offense, too.”

Wesche’s defense made the difference that day. Longo, a future All-State pick, was in the middle of two gems: a relay throw in the fourth inning to prevent the tying run from reaching third base, and a 4-3 double play in the sixth to end another Seymour rally. Stella also came up with a heads-up play in the fifth to back up an overthrow and flip to Granahan at second to once again erase the potential tying run.

“I think their ability to defend most plays was one of their strengths,” Kevin Wesche recalled.

Naugatuck entered the Class LL state tournament as the No. 4 seed and cruised into the quarterfinals with shutout wins over Bristol Central and New Britain. Wesche scattered eight hits with eight strikeouts in a 5-4 win over Bunnell in the quarters, setting up a semifinal matchup with top-seeded and previously unbeaten Trumbull.

Once again, it was a combination of strong pitching, clutch defense and timely hitting that proved successful for Naugatuck. Russell homered to spark a four-run rally in the second inning — one of only two hits Naugy recorded against the Eagles’ Magen Dargon. The Greyhounds plated three more runs on two walks, an error and two wild pitches, leaving Wesche and her defense to take care of the rest.

Wesche fanned eight and allowed five hits, which could have been more if not for Stella and Hussey in the seventh. Both made tough catches on line drives that could have sent Trumbull to the final. Instead, it was Naugatuck claiming a 4-2 win to reach its first state final in school history.

Standing in front of the Greyhounds was undefeated and defending state champion Masuk, which boasted arguably the greatest pitcher in state history — yes, she’s in the conversation with Joan Joyce — in Rachele Fico.

Coincidentally, Fico, Wesche and Seymour’s Kim Bogen all played on the same softball team at Great Oak Middle School in Oxford just a few years prior.

“It must have been something in the water that year,” Kevin Wesche joked.

In preparing for the massive challenge presented by Fico — she eventually set the national high school record with 26 career perfect games and went an unreal 105-3 with a 0.07 ERA at Masuk before starring at LSU — Kevin Wesche tried to keep his Greyhounds calm. He specifically remembered the scene before the championship at DeLuca Field in Stratford.

“We had a routine where we’d go out to the outfield before the game,” Wesche said. “At some point before one game during the season, a butterfly landed near us. Every game after that, they’d all look to see if there was a butterfly. That night, they were looking around for the butterfly again, and they saw another one. That was the perfect moment for me to have them look around the stadium, and I told them, ‘All these people are here for you.’”

On that June evening, though, Fico was too good. She tossed a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts, outdueling Wesche, who allowed the game’s only run on an infield hit in the third inning.

Ten years later, that team means a lot to the veteran coach. He’s been invited to weddings of his former players. Several of his old Greyhounds still come to watch games from time to time. He’s now a grandfather, as Alana has a family of her own in the borough.

And still, the support that rallied around his most successful team brings back fond memories.

“There was a great crowd that followed this team around,” Wesche said. “There were 1,500 people at DeLuca Field running around with their faces painted and their shirts off. It was a lot like the (Naugatuck) boys basketball team’s run to the (Class L) final (in 2015). It brought the whole community together.”