Fairfield Warde was one out away from scoring an upset -- as much as there can be any surprises during Falcons-Mustangs match-ups -- in an FCIAC softball game Monday afternoon against its cross-town rivals at Sturges Park. But Ludlowe completed its seventh-inning rally to tie it up, then won it two innings later in a game that featured splendid fielding and effective pitching.
The Falcons (13-2) stayed in the hunt for the top seed in the FCIAC tournament later this month, remaining in first place overall, with their 2-1 victory over the Mustangs in nine innings. Ludlowe improved to 12-1 in the conference.
Warde's loss, dropping it to 8-7 overall, stalled the Mustangs' drive to qualify for the conference tournament. They fell to 6-7 in the FCIAC after beginning the day in a virtual tie for ninth place in the standings. The teams with the eight best records qualify for the FCIAC playoffs.
The two Fairfield public high schools found themselves at different ends of the tourney picture when the Falcons collected five of their nine hits after the Mustangs began the seventh inning with a 1-0 lead. Ludlowe senior designated player Alexa Binkowitz hit a pop-fly single into right-center field, scoring freshman second baseman Brittany Romero with two outs in the seventh inning. In the ninth, Romero led off with a triple and scored in the next at bat when senior right fielder Colleen Lambert singled to center field for the game-winning hit.
"Gabbi (Natoli) did a great job today," Warde coach Gary Quiricone said of his sophomore pitcher. Natoli allowed four hits through six innings -- nine altogether -- and finished with two walks and one strikeout. "She did a great job of keeping them off balance.
"This was anyone's ball game for every inning. I was real pleased with our defense today. It was our best defensive game of the year. Ludlowe hit the ball a little better than we did today, and I think that was the difference in the game."
The first big hits of the day belonged to Warde. Mustangs sophomore Sarah Cotto, who made several sparkling catches in left field, opened the top of the third inning with a single to left. Shannon McCartney bunted her over to second base, then after Falcons' junior starter Brigette Anderson responded with a strikeout, senior center fielder Natalie De La Garrigue smacked a double to center field. It was 1-0 Mustangs.
Neither team got two runners on base until the Falcons' seventh when Romero, Lambert and Binkowitz combined to make it 1-1. In the eighth, Gillian Kennedy stroked a one-out single for Ludlowe and junior catcher Katie DeCarlo bunted her to second base. Sophomore shortstop Alice Nelson laid down a nice bunt but Natoli pounced on it and got Nelson at first to get out of the jam after Falcons' slugger Brenna Martini, their third baseman, had received an intentional walk.
Anderson gave up four hits but no walks. She struck out five Mustangs.
"I felt we were hitting it hard but right at them," said Ludlowe coach Shari Paci, who praised the contributions of Binkowitz, Anderson and Lambert. "And we got under it a little bit."
Lambert attributed her pivotal hit to being relaxed. "We all just believed in ourselves," Lambert said of the seventh- and ninth-inning rallies. "We all had to relax and play our games," she said.
Both teams were participating in the 900 project (building latrines in Haitian villages), which each school hopes will become an annual fundraising event. The players wore identical tee-shirts, with their different school colors, that read "1st annual play for a cause. 2 teams, 1 goal."
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Fairfield Ludlowe 2, Fairfield Warde 1 (9)
FAIRFIELD WARDE 001 000 000--1 4 0
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 000 000 101--2 9 0
Records: Fairfield Warde 8-7, 6-7 FCIAC; Fairfield Ludlowe 13-2, 12-1 FCIAC. Batteries: FW--Gabriella Natoli (L, 7-7) and Brianna West; FL--Brigette Anderson (W, 12-2) and Katie DeCarlo. Highlights: FW--Natoli allowed nine hits and two walks and struck out one. Sarah Cotton went 2-for-3. Natalie De La Garrigue drove in a run with a double. FL--Brigette Anderson allowed four hits and no walks and struck out five. Brittany Romero went 2-for-4 with a triple and scored the game-winning run. Alexa Binkowitz went 2-for-4 with a game-tying RBI single.