When the final out of the 2016 high school softball season was recorded, there was still one debate that raged on and one more game that softball fanatics would have loved to witness.
Class L champion Fitch and Class LL winner Cheshire both finished undefeated at 27-0 and featured award-winning pitchers. Fitch’s Caroline Taber was named the Register’s State Player of the Year and Abby Abramson of Cheshire was the Player of the Year on the All-Area team.
Fifteen voters cast their ballots with the Falcons receiving 10 first-place votes to finish first in the poll. Cheshire picked up the other No. 1 votes and ended up as the second-ranked team.
The chatter did not fall on deaf ears as the team’s head coaches had conversations about giving the fans the matchup they were clamoring for. So the teams will meet on Thursday at 4 p.m. at Cheshire High.
Make no mistake, both teams are different squads from the title-winning teams and the game won’t settle any of the arguments about which was the better team last spring, but it should make for an enticing non-conference matchup.
“Any time that two coaches can come together even in high school softball and can make a special moment, I think the kids deserve that,” Cheshire coach Kristine Drust said. “It is not just about competing and trying to settle something. You try to bring two really good teams together that people would like to see play each other and it just become a good moment in the sport.
“We had the opportunity to create that moment for the girls so I know their coach (Arielle Cooper), she was actually a former teammate of one of my assistants and as soon as (the final poll) came out, it was like, ‘Oh, I wish you guys played.’ Why don’t we? It makes for a good moment.”
Cheshire has picked up right where it left off after winning the program’s first state title. The Rams have won their first five games, all against 2016 state tournament teams, and are the unanimous No. 1 team in the Register Top 10 poll.
With the loss of three seniors including Taber, now a freshman at Princeton, the unranked Falcons are off to a 2-3 start.
Cheshire’s recipe for success is the same as it was a season ago. Abramson, a senior who has committed to Penn, is a dominating presence in the pitcher’s circle while the Rams get timely hits from every spot in its lineup.
“Everybody is capable of coming through when we need them the most and that is what we are trying to preach,” Drust said. “Whether it is a freshman or a sophomore, we expect our players to be able to come through in those moments. Once you give them that confidence, it really doesn’t matter what year we are and they all kind of want to do it for each other. It is a really good thing to watch, they really all believe in each other.”
Abramson isn’t resting on her laurels. She continues to tinker with her game in the quest to become a more effective pitcher. With 48 strikeouts in her last three games, she certainly seems to be in a good place.
“She is just really trying to grow as a pitcher and not rely on what helped her be successful in the past,” Drust said. “She has kind of worked out of her comfort zone a little bit, tried to learn new pitches, move her existing pitches around a little bit, use them in different ways.
“She is not getting complacent in what she thinks, what has been successful in the past. She is really trying to grow, she is trying to get stronger, she is trying to be an even smarter pitcher. It is showing a little bit with the walks that she has but she is still pretty sharp.”
Abramson isn’t the only one constantly striving to get better. Drust moves into her role as the associate head coach with the Stratford-based Brakettes when the high school season ends.
Drust won a national title as an outfielder with the softball juggernaut and now gets to learn alongside the legendary John Stratton.
“It just continues to grow my passion for the sport, learning things from the other players and what kind of coaching style they come from and picking their brains,” Drust said. “You are always learning, whether you are learning from one of coaches or from one of the players, your game is always being built upon and being able to bring girls from all over the country that have been coached by the best coaches in the country.
“It is a really awesome opportunity to grow and learn different strategies. I think what it has done for me has just built my passion for what I love to do and help me meet some great people along the way.”
The 2016 Brakettes included James Madison star Megan Good, who is currently second in Division I with an 0.41 ERA and Emily Lochten, who is in the top 10 nationally in home runs. Getting to work with some of the top collegiate stars is special as is learning the craft from Stratton.
“He just cares,” Drust said. “The first thing that makes somebody a successful coach is caring for their players, the players really feel that from him as a coach especially with all of his knowledge, you put the caring and empathy behind the coach and you hear him talk about the game and you get to learn that too, it is a great equation to be effective and put your mark on a lot of players.
“He’s a legend and that’s what I call him when I see him, he is a legend.”
Turning the page
One of the early leaders in the most improved department could be the Hamden Green Dragons.
Hamden won just two games during the 2016 season but topped that mark as Mackenzie Sargolini was 4 for 4 and drove in five runs in a 19-6 win over Wilbur Cross to improve to 3-1. Win No. 4 came in resounding fashion when the Green Dragons rallied from a four-run deficit while down to their final out in a 15-13 win over Platt.
The Green Dragons will certainly be tested with three challenging home games including Wednesday’s showdown against No. 8 Amity.
Other teams worthy of mention include Derby and Valley Regional. The Red Raiders have already doubled last year’s victory output thanks to wins over Kennedy and O’Brien Tech, while the Warriors are already halfway to last year’s win total.
Games to watch
Things will be heating up in conference and division play over the next week or two. There won’t be a need to wait too long for showdowns in the NVL and Constitution State Conference.
A showdown of NVL undefeated teams will be played in Bristol when 6-0 Seymour travels to meet 5-0 St. Paul on Monday.
Alessandra Milardo is 4-0 with 1 1.69 earned run average to go with 46 strikeouts in 29 innings pitched and is also hitting .636.
Seymour is 7-0 against St. Paul over the last three seasons including winning 10-0 and 13-1 in two meetings last season.
During the 2015 campaign, all three meetings were three-run games.
Four different Seymour players with at least 10 plate appearances are hitting at least .500 led by Chelsea Avila’s .579 average. Sierra Cripps and Becca Johnson are right behind at .571. That list doesn’t include Shari Minalga, who has a team-high 15 RBIs or Beca Findley, who has three homers in six games.
Wilcox Tech is rolling along with a 6-0 record having outscored its opponents 125-14. Platt Tech is 4-2 but in three games against CSC competition are 3-0 with 48 runs scored and nine allowed.