One swing decides St. Joseph’s title softball game with Masuk

With pitching dominant, the question became which team would deliver the big hit when St. Joseph met Masuk for the Class M softball championship in Stratford.

Kat Gallant delivered the decisive blow for Masuk with a two-run home run in the bottom of the fourth. The junior pitched a three-hitter when Masuk held its No. 1 seed and earned its third consecutive state title with the 2-0 victory against No. 2 St. Joseph at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field.

Masuk finished its season 24-0; St. Joseph 22-2.

Gallant came to the plate after Natalie Lieto’s first-pitch, two-out single in the home fourth gave Masuk its first base runner. Gallant pulled a 3-2 pitch deep over the fence in left for a two-run homer that stood up. It was Gallant’s fifth home run.

Masuk coach Leigh Barone had words of advice for her players after they had taken the lead.

“The first thing I said to them once we got the two runs is that we can’t back down now,” Barone said. “We know St. Joseph could do the same thing with one swing. The girls knew they had to stay up. We had to play our best defense and we did.”

St. Joe’s had threatened to break the deadlock in the top of the fourth when it put the ball in play four times.

Masuk’s Emma West made a diving catch in right field to take a base hit away from Brittany Mairano to open the inning. The sparkler took on added luster. Jill Guilfoyle singled over the third base bag. Gallant left her on first with a fly out and an infield pop.

“Once we knew we were playing Masuk, we knew it would take one play or one hit,” St. Joseph coach Jeff Babineau said. “We had opportunities. Kat is a great pitcher. Credit to her. In key situations she made the pitch to get the out.”

While Gallant (12 strike outs) was putting zeroes on the scoreboard, St. Joe’s pitcher Lauren Wasikowski was doing likewise. She set down nine straight batters to open the game. The junior gave up only one other hit in the fifth). She walked one batter with two down in the sixth. She struck out three.

“Lauren was spot on today. She moved the ball around. She gave us a chance to win,” Babineau said of his ace.

St. Joe’s put the tying runs on base in the sixth. Wasikowski singled with one out. Guilfoyle reached when she beat out a bobbled infield grounder. But Gallant put the third out in the book on strikes.

Gallant had shut out Mercy and East Haven in the state tournament. She brought an 0.28 ERA into the title game. That scoreless streak was threatened in the top of the first.

St. Joe’s lead-off batter Niamh Dougherty dropped in a fly ball behind second base to open the game. She hustled it into a double, but Gallant struck out the next two batters.

The Cadets’ Janelli Pratts walked to start the third. She went to second when a third strike got away. Maddy Fitzgerald walked on a 3-2 pitch with two outs before Gallant’s seventh strikeout ended the threat.

Gallant said: “Their offense is stacked. There are definitely threats. Between my catcher and my coaches, we figured out what pitches could work. We wanted to try our best.”

For the record

Masuk was voted the No. 1 team in the GameTimeCT preseason poll and has remained there throughout the season. It is 77-1 over the past three seasons. The run includes four straight South-West Conference titles.

St. Joseph was ranked fourth in the latest GameTimeCT Top 10 poll. The Cadets are 7-4 in the state final. They defeated Griswold 5-2 in 2018. Other titles came in 2010 (Lauralton Hall), 2007 (Seymour), 2006 (Bristol Eastern), 1984 (Waterford) and 1982 (Haddam-Killingworth).

william.bloxsom@hearstmediact.com Twitter: @blox354