SOUTHINGTON >> The streak is over.
Southington was one win shy of tying Seymour’s state record of 78-consecutive softball wins, but No. 2-ranked Fitch beat the No. 1 Blue Knights 2-0 on Monday at Southington High School to hand them their first defeat since 2013.
“Our senior class,” Southington coach Davina Hernandez said. “They were freshman when we had that loss to Bristol Central and it really ticked them off. And then for those next three years they didn’t lose a game.”
The loss was Southington’s first since a 4-3 setback to Bristol Central on April 13, 2013. It was also the second time Fitch ended another team’s win streak one game short of Seymour’s record. In 2009, the Falcons halted Rachele Fico and Masuk’s shot at history in the Class LL championship game.
This time, Fitch got a masterful performance from the reigning Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year Caroline Taber. The Princeton-bound pitcher struck out 11 and allowed three hits. She also had an RBI double in the fifth inning when Fitch scored its two runs.
On the mound, Taber kept the Southington batters off-balance with a mix of a newfound screwball and devastating changeup.
“It’s definitely become one of my favorite pitches,” Taber said of her changeup. “My travel coach really encouraged me to start throwing it more last summer and I am so thankful that he did. …Now I know I can throw it on an 0-2 count or a 3-2 count because I have so much control over it. It’s just really nice to have in my arsenal.”
All 11 of Taber’s strikeouts were on swings-and-misses, with eight coming in the second, third and fourth innings.
“I was so happy that they had so many lefties,” Taber said. “Because I learned a screwball that I really love to throw to lefties, especially on 0-2 counts and 1-2 counts that they’ll chase out of the zone and that pitch came in handy.”
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She allowed one base-runner to reach third base and even that one was on a throwing error by catcher Taylor Wolfgang, who was trying to throw out Michelle Woodruff stealing second.
“I threw that girl a screwball when they had a runner on third that one inning and she ended up swinging and missing,” Taber said. “I thought ‘Oh thank God. Thank God for the screwball.”
The only inning Taber didn’t record a strikeout was the seventh. It wasn’t until the final out when she could finally relax. Southington’s Natalie Wadolowski reached on an error and eventually reached third base, but she stayed there as Taber retired the final three batters.
“I don’t think [the nerves] leave until that very last pitch,” Taber said. “Because any of the girls on that team, like that last girl, could have sent the ball over the fence. You never know, that could have been a game tying swing. It’s not really done until the last pitch is done and the last out.”
The early innings had the making of a pitchers duel, though Fitch was making harder contact and louder outs. It took until the fifth inning for the Falcons to finally get to Southington starting pitcher Brenna Sarantides.
Nalissa Lynn Amar led off the inning with a sinking line drive to left field that skipped past a charging Emily Mankus. The ball reached the fence and Amar ended up on third base. Cassie Woods followed with a ground ball that was bobbled by Janette Wadolowski at shortstop allowing her to reach safely and Amar to score the first Falcons run.
“That inning where they scored the two runs,” Hernandez said. “Two errors. Error to get the girl to third, error to get her in.”
Sarantides got the next two batters — the top of Southington’s order — to pop out and line out to third base, but then came Taber into the box.
Taber drove a double to the left-center field fence that allowed Woods to score from first base and chased Sarantides from the game.
“Definitely a sense of relief,” Taber said of her RBI double. “Because you want that go-ahead run just to take the pressure off in the later innings, so the second I felt that swing connect with that ball it was a really good feeling.”
Both runs were unearned.
“For her, hitting-wise, to have that double, that was really needed for her to get through the end of the game,” Fitch coach Arielle Cooper said.
Kara Zazzaro pitched two and a third scoreless innings in relief, but Southington couldn’t score against Taber. The Blue Knights managed one hit and two baserunners over the final two innings.
“She keeps a very good composure on the mound,” Cooper said of Taber. “And we needed that from her. She’s a senior this year and she’s going to Princeton. She’s already set. But she’s still here and that’s all that matters. And I think for her to come out and pitch for us and still be in the moment, still be at Fitch, is what we need from her.”
And for Southington, the streak may be over, but there is a sense of relief.
“To be honest,” Hernandez said. “Did I want to go the rest of the season with all that pressure? Probably not. They’re kids and at the end of the day the pressure’s not on me, it’s on them and that’s a lot.”
“I’m so proud of them regardless. They’ve done things that no team has ever done in Connecticut. Regardless of the 78, 79 wins, they have so much to be proud of.”
Fitch 2, Southington 0
Fitch: 000 020 0 — 2 3 2
Southington: 000 000 0 — 0 3 3
(at Southington High School)
Batteries: F — Caroline Taber (W) and Taylor Wolfgang; S — Brenna Sarantides (L), Kara Zazzaro (5) and Maighread Scafariello.
2B: F — Taber.
SB: S — Michelle Woodruff.
Team records: Fitch 8-0; Southington 7-1.