NAUGATUCK — The Naugatuck softball team was staring down the barrel of the season’s end and for some Greyhounds that symbolized the end of their high school careers. But suddenly, Sarah Chandler ripped a two-strike pitch to turn around that barrel for another day.
Stefani Barry and Gillian Fortier raced home with the winning runs as No. 15 Naugatuck left No. 18 New Canaan on the field with a 2-1, 10-inning win in Tuesday’s Class LL state tournament first round.
“You can never count these kids out,” Naugatuck coach Kevin Wesche said, sounding confident after breathing a huge sigh of relief following the dramatic conclusion. “As long as they still have a pulse this team has a chance and they proved that. I have all the confidence in the world in these girls.”
Naugatuck (15-8) could only muster five hits through nine innings, and New Canaan finally broke the scoreless deadlock in the top of the tenth inning.
New Canaan’s Jordan Ventura hit a two-out single to get things started before Allison Reilly sent a drive down the right-field line. Naugatuck’s Gretchen Hale dove for the ball, but it popped out when she hit the ground to allow Ventura to score for a 1-0 New Canaan lead.
Reilly, who struck out 15, headed back to the circle in the bottom half. Two quick outs had the Greyhounds’ season hanging in the balance. Sydney Cotto stepped in and was not ready to call it a season. Cotto stuck her bat out and sliced a single to right, beating the throw to first.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” Cotto said. “But I was confident that I could get on base and help my team. I ran as fast as I could and beat the throw.”
Barry came on to pinch run and Fortier drilled a single through the right side before stealing second.
“I was just focusing on the hit-and-run situation, trying to move the runner over,” said Fortier, who had three hits, including two doubles. “She was pitching me away the whole game so I just tried to get all I could on the swing.”
Reilly was looking to stop the rally and got two quick strikes on Chandler. Just one pitch away from victory, Reilly released the throw and Chandler connected, sending a line drive just out of the reach of the left fielder.
The Naugatuck fans began to unload 10 innings of frustration as Barry and Fortier raced to the plate with the winning runs.
“I’m not a big fan out the outside corner pitch,” Chandler said. “She got me on it before but I’ve been in this situation numerous times this year. I knew I had to come though because I didn’t want this to be the end of our season. I got the perfect pitch inside and high and I just drove it.”
Wesche added, “Sarah struck out three times and I didn’t think once about replacing her in that situation with the game on the line.”
The Greyhounds would not even have been playing in the 10th inning without flashing the leather throughout the grueling, two-hour affair. New Canaan threatened in six of the 10 innings, leaving the bases loaded in the fourth and two runners in scoring position in three other at-bats. The Rams stranded 11 runners.
New Canaan loaded the bases in the fourth when Naugatuck pitcher Alexa Marucci stopped one back up the middle and fired to catcher Shannon Searles to end the threat.
In the sixth, second baseman Erica Bohuski made a key play to get the lead runner and center fielder Kara Klimaszewski pulled one in at the fence. In the ninth, left fielder Carli Pelliccia fielded a base hit and threw a strike to Fortier at third to get the lead runner.
“New Canaan is a very good hitting team,” Wesche said. “Our defense at times was spectacular and that’s what kept us in the game. It took some time to get out bats going but it was the defense that gave us that opportunity.”
Naugy is scheduled to visit No. 2 Westhill Wednesday for a second round matchup.