FAIRFIELD >> As Fairfield Ludlowe loaded the bases in the top of the seventh with one out, Warde softball coach Gary Quiricone couldn’t help think of last season.
A year ago, the Falcons (4-2) rallied from one down to defeat the Mustangs in nine innings.
Friday afternoon at Warde High, the Mustangs made sure there wasn’t a repeat.
Junior pitcher Gabriella Natoli buckled down and struck out the final two batters to collect the 2-0 victory. It was the first time since the 2010-11 season that Warde defeated Ludlowe.
“Last year in the last inning we let it get away,” Quiricone said. “You know, Gabby was brilliant and she just stayed strong till the end. That last pitch that Katie Goodchild held onto for that last out…doesn’t get any better than this.”
After struggling to gain any offensive momentum the entire game, the Falcons showed fight at the end.
Trailing by two runs in the top of the seventh with one out, Brittany Romero and Megan Szuchman each singled and then freshman Kaleigh Boyle hit a short dribbler and landed on first safely to load the bases.
Natoli struck out Brigette Anderson, which brought up freshman Sophia Bookas, who had a brilliant at bat as she battled Natoli. Bookas almost put the Falcons on the board as she smacked two hard line drives down the left field side that just went foul. Natoli was finally able to change her pitch a little bit and get a low strike to end the game.
“A game of inches…for a freshman, she just battled up there in that tough spot,” Ludlowe second-year head coach Shari Paci said.
Natoli finished the game with seven strikeouts and was backed up by a solid defensive effort from the Mustangs. Quiricone said in Natoli’s third year for Warde (5-1) on the mound he’s seen a difference in her maturity and confidence.
“She’s moving the ball around the plate and (her) speed is up this year for sure,” he said. “The confidence of her up there, it builds around the defense.”
The Mustangs gave up six hits, but made the defensive plays all game. Second baseman Molly Hamilton and freshman leftfielder Abrianna Natoli both made critical stops to preserve any runs.
“She couldn’t have played a better game today,” Quiricone said of Hamilton.
The Mustangs were able to build an early lead as senior Brianna West’s sac fly to right scored Gabriella Natoli for the 1-0 advantage in the first. Warde added an insurance run in the fourth for the 2-0 lead.
“We were so focused coming into this game and I think it showed,” Quiricone said.
For Ludlowe, which was playing its fourth game this week, couldn’t capitalize when needed.
“I think in the beginning we just hit balls right at people,” Paci said. “We didn’t find any of the space in the outfield. We didn’t wake up till the end of the game; that wasn’t Ludlowe softball.”
Sophomore Romero finished with eight strikeouts for Ludlowe in the loss.
“It’s good to definitely feel a loss early on,” Paci said. “You know that feeling, and you don’t want that to happen again.”