MONROE — The last time Masuk lost a softball game was May 4, 2019, 25 months and 35 wins ago. The defeat stands as the only one of Katie Welch’s high school career.
“We lost by one pitch that day,” Welch said Friday. “This girl, Paige Hunter, she dropped the barrel and sent it over the fence.”
Kat Gallant kept the scorebook as freshman. She was in the dugout doing just that on May 4, 2019. Call it part of her learning experience. Especially during the state tournament, she’d said she’d talk to Schiebe about the batters she faced and the ones upcoming the next inning. All season she was a sponge taking in what Schiebe and junior Maddie Procyk were saying.
⬆️2: Gallant walks the lead off batter but sets the next three East Haven hitter down in order #ctsb
Masuk 1, East Haven 0 pic.twitter.com/bCg4CPpjtJ
— Will Aldam (@AldamWill) June 8, 2021
“Me and Maddie both wanted to be the leaders she could follow,” Schiebe said. “Kat has really stepped up.”
“They had a big influence,” Gallant said. “I used to not think about the mental side of it. I was thinking about how pitches move. Now, I think about how I have to attack as a pitcher and have confidence. Focus. Remember sequences.”
Barone said Gallant would think along with the two pitchers, what she might do in similar situations. Gallant, who’ll play at Holy Cross in 2022, also played some catcher and that helped.
The student is now the ace. Gallant takes a 19-0 record with six no hitters and a 0.28 ERA into the state title game. She is hitting .539 with four homers and 38 RBIs. Freshman Natalie Lieto, emerging as one of the best young players in Connecticut, is hitting .486 with nine homers and 37 RBIs. Welch is hitting .438 with 27 RBIs.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) June 4, 2021
“Katie brings so much fire,” Lieto said. “With Kat pitching, we’re so dominant. She mows people down. She knows what she’s doing. She calm and composed.”
With the SWC championship against Notre Dame-Fairfield tied at one, Gallant drove in the winning run of Masuk’s tightest game this season. Two outs. Bases loaded. Walk-off hit by pitch. Masuk 2, ND 1.
In the state semis, East Haven loaded the bases with two out in the sixth against Gallant. Single, walk, walk.
Gallant’s answer. Strike out. Welch led the offense with two triples. Masuk went on to win 4-0.
SWC Championship Final: #ctsb
Masuk 2, Notre Dame-Fairfield 1
Gallant is hit by a pitch with the bases loaded and Masuk claims the SWC Title pic.twitter.com/RNKjmskSOS
— Will Aldam (@AldamWill) May 28, 2021
“Kat went right after them, no fear,” Barone said. “A huge part of this is Jennifer Hapanowicz (of USA Elite Training in Cheshire). She really prepares pitchers for every aspect of the game, the biggest one is the mental aspect, mental toughness. When you get into a tough situation you want to be out there. You don’t succumb to pressure.
Gallant’s pitching predecessors worked with Hapanowicz. Gallant has been with her three years.
“She has helped me so much, so much,” Gallant said. “Made me a different pitcher physically and mentally.”
Yes, the pitching tradition at Masuk is rich. Rachele Fico, 2006-2009, took Masuk to two state titles before going on to LSU. Tatum Buckley, 2011-2014, led Masuk to another state title in 2013.
“There’s a big history at Masuk,” Gallant said. “I like it. It reminds me of Little League and All-Stars, you’re playing for your town and school and not with people from all over the place. You’re also playing to win something, where with Showcase you’re playing for yourself to get recruited. It’s a different vibe. It’s really fun.
“And there’s this great tradition of pitchers before me. I want to live up to that, too. I looked up to Tatum Buckley when I was young, took a few lessons from her. Then there’s Sam and Maddie.”
— GameTimeCT (@GameTimeCT) June 8, 2019
Lieto said she watched the SWC championship in 2018 as a sixth grader and attended a ton of games in 2019 when Masuk beat North Haven in the semis and East Haven in the finals. East Haven had upset East Catholic earlier in the Class L tournament.
“I looked up to Megan McFarland a lot,” Lieto said. “That diving play (McFarland, who now plays at Bridgeport, toppled over the fence robbing a North Haven home run). I wanted to try to be as good as her.”
Welch raves about the 15-year-old outfielder.
“Nat’s one of the most athletic I’ve seen come through Masuk,” said Welch, off to play at Bentley in the fall. “She’s young, but she wants to be the best player on the field every day. We still treat her like she’s a little kid though. Boss her around a little. Even though she’s starts and bats third, she still has to do freshman things.”
When Barone took over in 2015, it was her first coaching job. Jacqui Sheftz had led the earlier success. She played at Sacred Heart Academy. She knew about Fico and Masuk’s pitching dominance. She has built a terrific 131-21 record by establishing a tight work ethic and tight bonds to go with great pitching.
⬇️5: Masuk breaks out for three runs on a RBI single by Ella Bunovsky and and two-run triple by Kaitlyn Welch #ctsb
Masuk 4, East Haven 0 pic.twitter.com/ZCeq0o4fJk
— Will Aldam (@AldamWill) June 8, 2021
“Watching the young players this year develop from the beginning of the season until now has been amazing,” Welch said. “They just fell into the Masuk tradition.”
What does Masuk tradition mean?
“It means you’ve got to be ready to win,” Welch said. “If you don’t want to win, we don’t want you here. If you don’t want to work hard every day, we don’t want you here. Everyone does their job. Our record proves it. In the end it’ll be worth it and (Saturday) is going to prove it.”
This will tell you something about Masuk softball. Last season, another potential special one, was wiped out by COVID. Procyk, Emily Lange, Montana Killoran and Emily Andersen lost their senior seasons. Barone said the team wanted to give the four a Senior Day they couldn’t have. So very early in the morning the girls posted pictures from past seasons on their front lawn. A nice gesture to wake up to.
“I played with those girls since I was eight,” Welch said. “I’m born later (on the calendar), so I played a year above. When I heard we weren’t going to have a season, it crushed me. But I felt even worse for them. I tried to think of the best thing possible.”
They threw a parade for the four. Players, coaches, former players, must have been 20 cars, drove past their homes beeping horns, cheering, holding up signs.
Who knows what Masuk will come up with if it gets its revenge against St. Joseph?