Stonington - For eight innings, it was a scoreless pitchers' duel between two of the area's best players, and
But in the ninth, the second extra-inning in the high school softball game, things fell apart for Chiaradio and the Bears. A bunt single, a two-base sacrifice, a dropped fly ball and an RBI double by Connors led to two Lancer runs. And in the bottom of the frame, Connors easily finished a nine-inning shutout gem to give Waterford a 2-0 win.
"Awesome," said Waterford Head Coach Elizabeth Sutman, describing Connors' performance. "She is just fantastic. This is her stage. And she rises to the occasion every time, and you know, just absolutely loves the game, and the more pressure the better. And I think it showed today."
the up-and-coming Bears (17-3) and their ace Chiaradio, who in one game struck out all 21 batters she faced, against the Lancers (19-1). And while for much of the game Chiaradio was the more dominant pitcher, a trick play in the fifth inning and great Waterford defense proved to be the difference.
"It wasn't easy," Connors said. "It was a long game, definitely knowing that it is not going to be one with 21 strikeouts. They were definitely going to put the ball in play, so it was nice to know we can come out on top in a game like that."
The first serious threat to score by either team was in the top of the third inning, when the Lancers put runners on second and third with one out. However, a safety squeeze play was sniffed out by Chiaradio, who threw out a Lancer at home and ended Waterford's momentum.
While the play didn't work, Waterford bunted early and often against Chiaradio. That was part of the team's strategy to make Stonington make plays, instead of just potentially striking out against the Bears' hard-throwing right hander, Sutman said.
"They graduated some people last year, they needed to be tested and I wanted to see what they could do," she said. "And I had a feeling, hitting-wise against a strong pitcher like that, we needed to do something to get on base and get our confidence up."
Then the play of the game happened in the fifth inning, when Stonington loaded the bases against Waterford with two outs. Sutman called a trick play where Connors threw a pitch out, allowing the Lancers' catcher to pick off a stunned Bear leading off of third base.
Sutman said she used the play in 2009 and "maybe one other time." The team practices it often though, and it was the right time to call it, she said.
"We needed something," Sutman said. "We needed a momentum turner."
The Bears would threaten again in the sixth inning, but great defense would bail the Lancers out. After Stonington's Ally Curisoso hit a two-out double, Julie Royer crushed a liner down the left field line that would have easily plated a run. However, the Lancers' left fielder ran it down with a spectacular play, ending the inning.
Chiaradio and Connors would continue to match zeroes, pushing the game into extra innings (high school softball games are seven innings long). But in the top of the ninth inning, things fell apart for the Bears, largely thanks to some shaky defense.
The inning started with a bunt single. The next Lancer batter would bunt again, sacrificing herself. But no Bear covered third base, allowing the Lancer base runner to get to third.
Then Lancer Katelyn Haff hit a lazy pop-up to short right field, which was dropped by the right fielder. That was followed by a hard hit Connors double - the hardest hit ball by Waterford all game - that gave Waterford a 2-0 lead.
"That felt really good because we know what (Chiaradio) can do, we've been hearing all the talk about how good she is," Connors said. "So we've definitely been preparing, cranking up the pitching machine because we know she throws hard, so it was nice to know I could hang in there and get some good cuts."
The bottom of the ninth went quickly, with Connors easily setting down the side. It was the last game of the regular season for both teams, as they now head to the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament.
Play For The Cure Game
The game was the third annual "Play for the Cure" game between both teams. Both teams wore pink uniforms to help raise money and awareness to fight cancer.