It was the game everyone wanted to win. For the Sacred Heart Academy softball team, Saturday night’s championship tilt against top-seeded Fitch was more than just about winning a state title.
The contest at Dunn Sports Complex in Meriden was the end of an era. Make it the end of two eras.
For longtime coach Ray Ramelli, win or lose, he knew Saturday’s trek to the field would be his last as he announced his retirement following the season earlier in the year.
For pitcher Molly Flowers, it was a chance to come full circle. After leading the Pacers to a state title in her freshman campaign, Flowers returned from a wrist injury suffered against Jonathan Law in the second game of the season and propelled her team back to the title game.
“She got hurt and we started the season 1-4,” Ramelli said of Flowers following the semifinal victory. “She came back and just started getting better and better. She is in a groove now. She is where she needs to be.”
Unfortunately for Ramelli and Flowers, there was no storybook ending. Scoring twice in the third inning and adding an insurance run in the fifth, Fitch took home the Class L title with a 3-1 victory over the Pacers.
The start of the season wouldn’t give anyone reason to believe the Pacers would be playing for a state title.
Losing four of their first five games and dealing with Flowers’ injury took its toll on the Pacers.
With the return of Flowers in the circle, the Pacers started to play better and their confidence was evident on the field. Sacred Heart ended the season with a three-game winning streak by a combined score of 24-2.
Included in that streak was a 4-1 victory over Jonathan Law, who the Pacers finished a three-game season sweep against in the Class L quarterfinals. With a trip to the finals on the line, the Pacers turned things up a notch against Berlin.
Junior Becca Marks had a big two-strike, run-scoring single for a two-run lead and freshman Maighread Scafariello took the air out of Berlin’s balloon with a long home run.
“Everybody did something,” Ramelli said of the semifinal win. “Everyone played a part. She (Marks) had the big hit and then we got a big home run. We played well in the field.”
Contributions for the Pacers came from all over this season. Freshman Emily Drezek hit a big home run in the quarterfinals against Law to get the team going, then scored the first run of the game against Berlin and added a long double.
Drezek also looked to get the Pacers going in the finals, but was left stranded on base along with Annabelle Carbo in the fifth with Sacred Heart trailing by one run.
Seniors Courtney Nowicki and Amanda Beecher continued to lead the way as the season went on. Nowicki and Beecher came up with big hits and just as important, anchored the infield from the corners with Nowicki playing well at third.
Against Fitch, Flowers and Beecher started a fourth-inning rally with a walk and a single and the freshman, Scafariello, brought the Pacers within a run with a clutch two-out single.
That infield also saw sophomore Emily Velez make the plays at shortstop, while Marks was as solid as could be with her play at second and her hitting at the top of the order.
When all was said and done, this diverse age group proved to be a good mix as freshmen Brittany Lachance, Drezek and Scafariello proved to be needed additions, sophomore Velez was solid at shortstop, while juniors Marks and Carbo, along with seniors Flowers, Nowicki and Beecher led the way.
Saturday’s contest completed the circle back to the title game and the journey.
For Flowers, it was not the ending she had hoped for despite pitching exceptional in defeat. In her last game in a Sacred Heart uniform, Flowers tossed a three-hitter and struck out nine.
For Ramelli, the veteran coach leaves with the memory of a lifetime in a season filled with highlights.
“This season has been great,” Ramelli said. “These kids have been great. What else could you ask for?”