Class S Softball: O’Neill completes comeback, delivers Thomaston to state championship

WEST HAVEN >> Nobody does it better.

Not only do the Thomaston girls win state titles, they do it in absolutely unforgettable ways.

Slideshow: Thomaston 7 Old Saybrook 6 (8)

How do you top two overtimes and three straight foul shots for last winter’s basketball championship?

Easy. Come back from a six-run deficit through four innings of softball for a 7-6 win in eight innings and another state championship in the spring.

“I don’t know what it is, we start playing toward the end of the game,” laughed co-coach Kelly Finlay, who’s also an assistant coach with the basketball team.

“We set up after our (Class S) semifinal win and I brought in some of my police films,” said co-coach Gene Torrence, Thomaston’s former chief of police.

“We talked about battles,” he said. “I told them, ‘We’ve won the battles; now it’s time to win the war.’”

Thomaston swarms Gabby Hurlbert (8) after she scored the game-winning run, on a Erin O'Neill base hit, in the bottom of the eighth to lift the Golden Bears past Old Saybrook to win the Class S state championship, 7-6. Laurie Gaboardi - Register Citizen

Thomaston swarms Gabby Hurlbert (8) after she scored the game-winning run, on a Erin O’Neill base hit, in the bottom of the eighth to lift the Golden Bears past Old Saybrook to win the Class S state championship, 7-6.
Laurie Gaboardi – Register Citizen

Old Saybrook’s Paige Trabucchi (2-for-4, triple, double, 2 RBI, 2 runs) started the game with a triple to the right field corner.

The shelling didn’t stop until the Rams rang up three runs in each inning.

In the first, Emily Santamaria (2-for-4, 2 RBI, run) followed Trabucchi with an RBI single. Effie Gianitsos beat out an infield roller. They raced home on an outfield error, 3-0.

Thomaston’s Abby Hurlbert had a lonesome triple in the bottom of the inning, then the Rams were back for more.

A walk to Ellis Welsh, hits by Tina Gosselin and Santamaria and a two-run double by Trabucchi made the game seem out of reach, 6-0.

“We’ve been down each game, but not 6-0,” said Hurlbert. “So we obviously had a challenge.”

The last Ram hit in the inning caromed off Golden Bear pitcher Morgan Sanson.

“I think it sharpened her focus,” said Coach Torrence. “We changed some pitches — started throwing some knuckle curves to get in their heads, then came with the fastball.”

Sanson gave up six hits in those first two innings. The Rams didn’t get another one all game.

“We always have so much encouragement and support for each other, we don’t give up,” said Sanson. “Once our bats got going, our confidence shot up.”

“Our offense cooled down; their offense heated up,” said Old Saybrook coach Laura Westner. “We should have put it away.”

It took two more innings for the Bears to get started.

Sanson and Erin O’Neill (2-for-3, RBI) were stranded on second and third in the bottom of the fourth after Sanson got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top.

Thomaston's Abby Hurlbet (left) and Erin O'Neill (right) pose with the Class S title plaque after returning back to Thomaston high school after they were escorted by police and fire engines from the highway to the school. Pete Paguaga - Register Citizen

Thomaston’s Abby Hurlbet (left) and Erin O’Neill (right) pose with the Class S title plaque after returning back to Thomaston high school after they were escorted by police and fire engines from the highway to the school.
Pete Paguaga – Register Citizen

The dam started to break in the fifth.

Thomaston’s Jensyn Cleveland slammed a one-out triple, then went down on a controversial pick-off call. The Bears roared back with hits by Danielle Genest (2-for-4, RBI), Gabby Hurlbert (2-for-3, RBI, 2 runs) and Julia Romaniello (2 RBI) for two runs.

Next inning, the Bears were in full attack. O’Neill walked; Nicole Schaefer and Nina Barone (RBI) hit. O’Neill scored on Barone’s hit; Cleveland walked; Schaefer sprinted home on a passed ball; Barone got in ahead of a fielder’s choice by Genest.

Every time there was a Ram throw, Thomaston batters moved up, sometimes several times on the same play. Old Saybrook looked stunned. A wild pitch got Genest in; another brought home Gabby Hurlbert, on base with another fielder’s choice.

Four runs were in, 6-6.

“When they tied it at 6, we lost the game,” said Rams coach Westner. “We couldn’t get the outs.”

It took two more innings. Sanson (8 innings, 6 hits, 4 earned runs, 5 strikeouts, 5 walks, 3 hit batters) took care of the seventh with two strikeouts and a comebacker to the mound.

Her defense shone in the top of the eighth on three great plays — a running catch by O’Neill in center field; a soft liner snagged by Genest at second; and a tough groundout to third by Barone.

By the bottom of the eighth, everybody in the stadium sensed it was time.

Gabby Hurlbert started with a walk; Romaniello sacrificed her to second. Abby Hurlbert lined a shot right at Ram left fielder Gosselin.

With two outs O’Neill, a senior, came to the plate.

“I knew I had to get a hit in my last at-bat ever. I told myself, ‘It’s now or never.’”

It was a glorious “now.”

O’Neill laced a line drive to the left field gap. Hurlbert made it easily from second. O’Neill became the tournament MVP.

Top that.

No. 2 Thomaston 7, No. 8 Old Saybrook 6 (8)
At West Haven High School
Old Saybrook 330 000 00—6 6 1
Thomaston 000 024 01—7 11 2
WP: Morgan Sanson. LP: Effie Gianitsos. 3B: OS—Paige Trabucchi. T—Abby Hurlbert; Jensyn Cleveland. 2B: OS—Trabucchi.
Records: Old Saybrook 18-7; Thomaston 20-2.

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