GROTON >> After walking the game’s first two batters, then getting hit hard in the second inning by a Mercy team that was primed for an upset, it seemed like the emotions of the day were getting the best of Fitch senior pitcher Caroline Taber.
Taber had learned that morning, while sitting in French class, that she had been selected the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.
“No one told me,” Taber said. “I found out on twitter at 8 a.m. I was like, ‘Holy cow’ and jumped up on my chair.”
Taber, who led the Falcons to the 2014 Class L state championship, was also pitching in her final game at Groton’s Washington Park.
“It was definitely hard,” Taber said. “I wrote my initials in the circle at the beginning of the game. I love this field. It has grown on me. There’s a lot of great memories on it.”
When Taber finally settled down, she was as good as advertised.
Taber allowed just one-hit over the final five innings and top-seeded Fitch (25-0) advanced to the Class L semifinals with an 8-3 victory over the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.
The Falcons, who are ranked No. 1 in the Register/GameTimeCT poll, will meet No. 4 Torrington (18-4) next week.
“It’s getting harder and harder,” Fitch coach Arielle Cooper said. “Some of the kids are hurt and tired. We’ve played 25 games. We just have to stick it out physically and mentally.”
Mercy, which was seeded No. 24, reached the quarterfinals with impressive wins over East Haven and RHAM. The Tigers (11-12) then went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the state before Fitch delivered a knockout punch with a four-run sixth inning.
“We got some really good swings and made some good contact today,” Mercy coach Jenn Piazza-Laffin said.
Mercy grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first. After Tiffany Mangiameli and Blake Braman drew walks, Mangiameli moved to third on a fly out and scored on Danielle Lajoie’s ground out.
Fitch, however, responded in their first at-bats against Tigers starter Bri Sawicki. Taber drilled a two-run double to left and Jonell Hobert’s sacrifice fly gave the Falcons a 3-1 lead.
Mercy evened things at 3 in the top of the second, sparked by a lead-off single from freshman Taylor Reardon and an RBI double from Ema Walden, who scored on Giana Pirolli’s ground out.
“We knew they were good hitters,” said Taber, who will play at Princeton next season. “They had 16 hits against East Haven. We knew they were going to put the ball in play. It was our job to make sure that we got the outs that we could.”
Sawicki also settled in. The senior righthander blanked the Falcons over the next three innings. But ninth-batter Nalissa Amar led off the fifth with a single and after moving up on a sacrifice bunt, scored on Taylor Wolfgang’s RBI single to right and Fitch led 4-3.
The Falcons added four more runs in the sixth while talking advantage of a pair of Mercy infield mistakes. Cassie Woods (2-for-3) dropped a two-run double along the left field line, while Wolfgang (2-for-3) and Amar (2-for-3) each had RBI hits to stretch Fitch’s advantage to 8-3.
“One bad inning,” Piazza-Laffin said.
Taber, who allowed just three hits while striking out eight, set Mercy down in order in the sixth and seventh innings.
“We had a great run in the tournament,” Piazza-Laffin added. “The kids were pumped up, energetic and ready to play. I can’t ask for anything more from them. We just couldn’t finish it.”
FITCH 8, MERCY 3
(at Washington Park, Groton)
Mercy 120 000 0 — 3 3 1
Fitch 300 014 x — 8 11 0
Bri Sawicki and Michelle Thielgard; Caroline Taber and Taylor Wolfgang.
WP: Caroline Taber (19-0). LP: Bri Sawicki. 2B: Ema Walden (Mercy); Taber, Cassie Woods (Fitch). RBI: Danielle Lajoie, Ema Walden, Giana Pirolli (Mercy); Woods (2), Taber (2), Wolfgang (2), Jonell Hobert, Nalissa Amar (Fitch).
Team records: Mercy 11-12; Fitch 25-0.