STAMFORD — Kim Saunders has been throwing to Sarah Wargo for so many years the two feel a connection that goes well beyond the 43 feet between the pitching circle and home plate.
Saunders is the All-FCIAC starting pitcher for the Stamford softball team and fellow senior and life-long friend Wargo is the one catching her.
The rapport has grown over the years to the point where Saunders feels Wargo is an extension of her in the circle.
“We have been best friends since third grade. It makes me more comfortable, she knows my pitches,” Saunders said. “She catches for me year round and I know she’s going to call a pitch that will work for me. I also feel comfortable enough that I can shake her off if I ever need to.”
The two not only play on the Black Knights together, but play for the Bobby Valentine Titans in the offseason and grew up playing together in Stamford.
Sophomore season, Wargo played on the varsity but was not the starting catcher.
Wargo remembers not being too impressed the first time she caught Saunders but that has changed since she first received a pitch from her friend in fifth grade.
“When she first started, she wasn’t that great,” Wargo said as she laughed. “We both pushed each other a lot over the years and it made both of us a lot better. She never stopped working. She knew how good she wanted to be and she achieved it. She’s very motivated and we both keep pushing each other to get better.”
Saunders came a long way from her first time in the circle, earning the starting pitching job as a freshman on a team full of upperclassmen. Later that season, she threw a no-hitter against Staples.
“I have seen her get more confident in her pitching. As a freshman, she had players around her that helped build her confidence,” Stamford coach Melissa Giordano said. “Now, she is the one that has to be at the top helping the younger girls out, she took over. I have seen her confidence grow every year. She has always been a hard worker and always committed to the team. She matured so much from then both on and off the field.”
Giordano said Saunders impressed her so much during her freshman season tryout that she needed to find a spot among the upperclassmen for her.
“She had a good arm and could have started in other positions for us freshman year,” Giordano said. “I also knew she was very competitive and when I saw her I knew she needed to be playing for us and we needed a pitcher at that time.”
Her sophomore year, the Black Knights had eight seniors on the roster and Saunders never missed an opportunity to learn from them.
“The seniors when I was a freshman and sophomore helped me a lot,” Saunders said. “They taught me that it’s not about me, it’s about the team. It doesn’t matter if you break personal record. In softball, one player doesn’t win or lose the game.”
Saunders kept improving, and after her sophomore season was named to the All-FCIAC Second Team.
This preseason, she was named to the GameTimeCT 25 Players to Watch list and is considered one of the top arms in the FCIAC.
She can throw any of her three main pitches (curveball, screwball, rise ball) for strikes and has become adept at mixing in her entire repertoire.
“I think I have gotten a lot more accurate and I have gotten better at hitting my spots,” Saunders said. “My movement pitches have gotten a lot more consistent. I think the pitch I have improved the most since freshman year is my rise. It’s a hard one to work on. If you miss with the rise, a lot of time it’s down the middle. If you don’t get the rise ball up, it’s an easy pitch to take out of the park. I throw a curve, screw and rise. I have gotten a lot better at throwing all of those pitches and getting strikes.”
She and Wargo are two of three players on the Stamford roster with any varsity experience.
Wargo said having Saunders in the circle brings a stability to the team.
“I think the biggest thing she brings to the team is her ability to make everyone else better just by being there and having a voice on the team,” Wargo said. “She’s a leader for the younger players but also for me and the older players. She’s a great leader.”
Saunders had committed to play at LaSalle University, but the school disbanded the varsity softball program. She is now committed to play in college at Bentley University in Waltham, Mass.
Saunders plays with a calm demeanor on the mound and at the plate, where she is also one of the Black Knights top hitters.
No matter where she is, Giordano is glad Saunders is on her side.
“She wants to be the one on the big games,” Giordano said. “She prides herself in being in that position on the mound or at bat. She wants to be up with two outs in the bottom of the seventh down one run. She is competitive. She wants to be in big games and big moments.”