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Wednesday, April 25 Sports

Little League softball team ousted in finals again

For the second straight year Fairfield's Little League softball all-star team lost the District 2 finals to Westport, with last year's team falling in the division for 11-year-old players. Each loss came by one run.

On Saturday afternoon, Fairfield and Westport picked up a suspended game from last Friday night that was halted by darkness with the score deadlocked at 13-13. In the bottom of the 13th on June 28, Westport pushed across the winning run to move to the next round of statewide competition, one of two six-team sectionals beginning this weekend. In 2013, Fairfield lost by 2-1 to their neighbors to the west.

Manager Matt DeSabella, who guided the team a year ago when it was in the competition for 11 year olds, expressed supreme pride in his players' performance on the diamond, coupled with their resiliency. He expected Fairfield to be well-rounded and his players showed ability at the plate, in the field, on the mound and on the base paths. What he did admit was Wesport's hitting prowess was better than he anticipated, and that's difficult to overcome.

Fairfield beat Trumbull twice but lost to Westport two times. In 2013, Fairfield went 4-0 before losing to Westport successively to be eliminated.

Thirteen players from the regular-season in-town league were selected through player evaluations by the Majors Division's four managers. DeSabella, 38, a former Fairfield High School football, basketball and baseball player, recused himself from voting as one of the Majors' managers because he knew he was going to skipper the all-star team and gave his ballot of player ratings to an assistant coach. The league attracted 350 players from ages 5 to 14 in the spring.

There were three players who were new to the team in 2014 -- first baseman Lily Traum, outfielder Genevieve Tiago and outfielder Jayney Magliocco. "They worked real hard this year and earned their spots," DeSabella said of the trio.

Fairfield used three pitchers, with nearly even time spent on the mound, and DeSabella had great flexibility with lineups, defensive replacements and pinch runners because of the combined versatility within the roster. Haley Bivens, 11, started two games and was on in relief in the final round against Westport. Nicole Kerstetter, also an outfielder, was in the pitching rotation along with Olivia Vadas.

Because it was a double-elimination format, another game would have been played to decide the District 2 winner if Fairfield had survived the extra-inning, two-day contest. DeSabella believed Fairfield was well-equiped to have a successful tournament. He had words of praise for all 13 players but did not speak excessively or glowingly about any two or three would-be superstars.

"We were pretty balanced. Every girl in the lineup offensively could have stepped up at any moment," DeSabella said. "Defensively, every girl could have stepped up at any moment. They were all just as capable of making the highlight reel as they were as making a mistake. Westport came out hitting. One through nine, all of them could hit well."

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Fairfield opened tourney play with an 11-1 win over Trumbull on June 22. On June 24, Westport beat Fairfield 8-6. The next day, Trumbull lost to Fairfield 10-0.

Throughout the tourament, Fairfield displayed the ability to play small ball, often moving leadoff batters who reached base over by bunting successfully. Plus, DeSabella noted, the strengths of Trumbull and Westport's defenses were not at handling bunts smoothly. Several Fairfield attempts for sacrifice bunts resulted in the base runner reaching the next base along with the bunter reaching first safely as well.

Lizzie Kane played second base and hit in the leadoff spot in the batting order. She scored a number of runs in the four games, DeSabella said. Kane went 4-for-6 in the final game against Westport.

Sophia Sancho, DeSabella's step-daughter, usually hit second in the order and was the catcher. She did a decent job in her role as a table-setter, DeSabella said. "She threw out some runners (trying to steal) against Trumbull (in the tournament opener)," DeSabella said. "No one really ran on her too much (after that)."

Kerstetter hit in the three hole and was an outfielder when she wasn't pitching. DeSabella noted how nearly all the time she made contact, Kerstetter hit it hard. There were some loud outs and she did reach base on some errors on some well-struck balls.

Third baseman Camryn Johnson was a team leader, particularly in a vocal way, he said, though no one was named captain.

Johnson might have turned in Fairfield's defensive gem, snaring a line drive and firing across the diamond to first base to double-up a base runner whom had strayed too far. At the plate, Johnson did a good job of putting the ball in play, DeSabella said.

Bivens was fifth in the lineup and also played in the outfield. She had a complete-game victory over Trumbull in the 11-1 win with five strikeouts, no walks, eight hits surrendered and one earned run allowed.

Tori Lucia was the center fielder and ordinarily the No. 6 hitter in the order. She had an uncanny ability, DeSabella noted, at getting a hit or drawing a walk in timely situations. Lucia might have made the nicest play among the outfielders by cutting down a runner trying to make it from first base to third base on a single. She was ne of DeSabella's first choices as a special pinch runner.

Molly Reynolds usually hit in the order behind Lucia, and played at second base and in the outfield. DeSabella appreciated her consistency and versatility, giving him lineup options, and her high on-base percentage at the plate.

Shortstop Elizabeth Doolan batted eighth most of the time. "She had some moments defensively," he said. "She made some good plays. Elizabeth also got some bunts down for us."

Traum usually was ninth in the order. DeSabella was impressed with her transition to playing first base, which she had never done before the tournament.

Reserve Mallory Elliott, an outfielder, was his other choice for pinch-runner duties. But DeSabella also often brought her in as a designatted batter, filling in for a starter who fulfilled her obilagtions as a starter by getting one at bat before replaced offensively only by the designated player.

The assistant coaches were Darran Miner and Casey Elliot, the league president.