BY KYLE BRENNAN
STRATFORD — Sitting on a wall outside DeLuca Field in Stratford, Woodland senior catcher Kylie Bulinski just wanted to soak it all up. That state championship feeling takes a while to sink in.
“I’m on cloud nine right now,” Bulinski said after her Hawks beat Oxford, 4-0, to win the Class M state championship June 11. “This team is incredible.”
Myriad emotions clashed all at once.
There was the pride of winning the first state title in the excellent history of Hawks softball, and just the fourth overall in 20 years of Woodland’s existence.
“We haven’t gotten a banner in a long time,” said Bulinski, the game’s most valuable player after a 4-for-4 effort that included a two-run homer in the second inning. “We just made school history, and it’s incredible to have the team to do that.”
There was the relief of completing a 27-0 season in which everyone expected the Hawks to cruise to the championship.
“We knew that this was our last shot and we did everything to get here,” said senior shortstop Riley Kane, whose first-inning RBI single put the Hawks ahead for good. “Our motivation was up and we needed to get the job done.”
There was the sadness of five seniors — Bulinski, Riley Kane, Bella Kraemer, Cassidy Doiron, and Rory Nolan — donning the black and gold for the last time.
“I started crying because it was both exciting and sad,” Kane said.
There was the sweetness of redemption following last season’s disappointingly premature exit in the state semifinals.
“It’s revenge from last year,” said junior pitcher Sam Sosnovich, who twirled a two-hitter with 13 strikeouts in a dominant effort. “We knew we had to win this game to prove ourselves.”
And there was simply the overwhelming joy of accomplishing a goal that had been two decades in the making.
“It feels so good,” said coach Loren Luddy, who’s been at the helm of the program since the school opened. “It’s been such hard work. A lot of work, a lot of hours.”
There was some apprehension for the top-seeded Hawks as they entered the final against No. 6 Oxford, a team that had led Woodland for much of the Naugatuck Valley League championship game a few weeks earlier, but Sosnovich and Bulinski were confident that things would be different than the 9-6 slugfest the Hawks weathered in the teams’ third meeting May 25.
“The first couple of times I played them, I really didn’t mix in any offspeed pitches, so they sat on my fastball,” Sosnovich said. “I knew I had to come into this game and mix in offspeed and movement. It worked.”
“We haven’t been throwing all of her pitches all season because they haven’t all been working,” Bulinski said. “I told her before the game that we were going to throw everything. They hadn’t seen her throw her drop or her changeup as much, and they worked.”
Sosnovich overpowered the Wolverines with her array of pitches, but her strikeout pitch was usually the well-set-up fastball. The junior said she usually tops out at 58 miles per hour, but she estimated that she sat around 60 or 61 mph during the final.
She struck out the side in the third and the sixth, and she fanned two of the three batters that came to the plate in the seventh to unleash a raucous celebration on the diamond.
Sosnovich also got to pitch with a lead almost all game after Woodland took a 1-0 lead in the first. Kraemer reached on a one-out error and Bulinski followed with a single. Kane tomahawked a pitch to left field to plate Kraemer, and the Hawks never looked back.
“It was the last game of my high school career, so I wanted to get a hit,” Kane said. “I knew we had runners on base and I wanted to get us on the board, so I tried to do my best and it worked out.”
It also took off pressure from everyone else, according to Luddy.
“They were able to take a deep breath,” Luddy said. “Sam knew all she had to do was fire, and we were good to go.”
In the second, Breanna Thurston led off with a walk and Nolan singled to give Woodland two on with none out. Kraemer’s sacrifice fly made it a 2-0 lead, and Bulinski followed up with an opposite-field shot that barely cleared the left-field fence for a 4-0 advantage.
“I treated it like my last high school game,” Bulinski said. “I knew I had to play my best game and hit the ball as best as I could.”
Only four teams in the state get to finish the season by winning their last game. For the first time, the Hawks were one of them, and they say it all stems from the way last year ended.
“It was showing up to practice, giving 100% every day, never giving up, and believing we could do it,” Bulinski said. “We believed we had the team and the talent to do it. It’s incredible and rewarding after last year. It’s a great way to go out.”
BY KYLE BRENNAN