Softball: Law's return to Naugatuck has better ending
The last time the Jonathan Law softball team traveled to Naugatuck for a tournament game (2009), coach Melanie Blude's Lady Lawmen suffered a 2-0 defeat on an incredibly hot June night. Even in the wake of the loss, though, the team was treated to ice cream after the game by their coach.
This time around, however, the night was much sweeter.
Behind the six-hit pitching of freshman Brianna Buccitti and a huge two-strike, two-run triple by senior Skyler Bender in the seventh, the No. 13 Lady Lawmen defeated the Greyhounds, 5-2, on Friday and advanced to the Class L semifinal round for the first time in 30 years.
"I'm really not that surprised that we're in this position," Blude said. "We've gotten better and better as the season has gone along. I know it's a cliche, but these kids really are like a family. There's no drama here. They always seem to be relaxed and pulling for each other. The pressure doesn't seem to bother them."
Right from the start, Law was clicking. Facing another freshmen, Alyssa Roberts, Law got single runs in the first, second and third innings while Buccitti (14-8) retired the first nine batters.
"She (Buccitti) fits our style of play perfectly," Blude said. "She's not a high strikeout pitcher (five against the Greyhounds). What she does is get batters to hit the ball and then we make the plays."
Through her seven innings of work, Buccitti needed only 76 pitches. She induced eight ground-ball outs and the Greyhounds were only able to hit one fly-ball into the outfield, a double by Mary Schofield in the sixth.
Law pounded the ball all game long and wound up with five extra-base hits (two doubles and three triples).
The Lady Lawmen opened with three straight hits.
Cali Jolley beat out an infield grounder for a base hit, then scored on Erica Boehm's triple to deep right center. Boehm tried to turn it into an inside-the-park home run, but was thrown out at the plate when Roberts' throw on the relay beat her at the plate, where Aryanna Powell applied the tag.
The next batter up, Gina Boccamazzo doubled to left, but was stranded after Roberts got Kaci O'Connor on a pop out before snaring Bender's hard liner.
Freshman Maddie Lula led off the next inning and reached second on a throwing error. She wasn't there long. Designated player Emily Morey drove the first pitch she saw through the infield on the right side as Lula scored. Ally Stein kept the rally going, with another single. But Roberts, who threw 118 pitches, got the next three batters.
Boccamazzo led off the Law third with a base hit (she had two in the game along with Jolley and Bender), went to second on a wild pitch before racing home on Lula's double.
Heading into the fourth with a 3-0 lead, Buccitti gave up three hits in the inning and the Greyhounds cut Law's lead down to a run.
Naugatuck used singles by Julia Pelliccia, Roberts and Powell to produce runs and also took advantage of a throwing error. Powell and Roberts had RBI, while the other run scored directly off of the error.
Powell and Roberts accounted for four of Naugatuck's six hits. Each had two with single safeties going to Schofield and Pelliccia.
"We're a very young team (the Greyhounds started six underclassman) and one, that unfortunately, can make mistakes because of their youth," said Naugatuck coach Kevin Wesche. "But we've been proud of these kids from the start of the season to the finish."
Naugatuck closed out its season with a 15-8 record and was the No. 12 seed.
Like Blude, Wesche has been a long-time coach. He's been the head man at Naugatuck for 15 years, one more than Blude has served at Law.
"We've been on softball committees together and we're familiar with each other's teams,” he said. “We usually scrimmage each year. Melanie is a good coach."
The two teams last met in 2015 when Law won a 7-5 Class L first-round home game.
Before driving in two, crucial runs in the seventh, Bender was called out two innings earlier after she left second base (after she had doubled) while Roberts was in the circle.
"In a situation like that, you either have to go (to third) or step back on second," Blude said. "I think she (Bender) was trying to get into the pitcher's head."
A defensive gem by Law in the sixth saved what would've been the tying run.
With one out, Roberts sliced a single to right. Schofield followed with her double to deep left center. By the time Law's Stein got to the ball, Roberts was between second and third and was being waved in. Jolley took the relay in short left before firing a perfect strike to O'Connor who tagged out Roberts.
Fired up by the play, Jolley started the seventh with a single, stole second before going to third on a passed ball. O’Connor, who had also had a base hit, moved to second and both runners scored when Bender drove the ball in the right-center field gap for a triple.
"That was a two-strike bomb (Bender's hit)," Blude said. "What I like about Sky is she's unlike a lot of kids who will take a defensive stand with two strikes on them. She always comes up pounding no matter how many strikes she has on her."
It was Senior Skip day on Friday at Law, but, because Bender and O'Connor, the teams' only seniors, wouldn't have been able to play by being absent, they had to go to school. They were no doubt the only ones there.
"I took a test (for Clinical Nursing) and then I sat around all day," said Bender who will pursue a degree in nursing while attending Southern Connecticut State University beginning in the fall.
Everyone on the team was anxiously awaiting the encounter with an undefeated (23-0) and top seeded Masuk team, scheduled for Tuesday at 4 p.m. at West Haven's Frank Biondi Field.
"What we can't afford to do is give them any runs," Bender said. "Sure, they've undefeated. We'll just have to try our hardest and, if we get the win, then its on to the championship game."
If that happens, it would give the Law softball team an opportunity to win the school's first title in that sport in 38 years.