St. Joseph wins FCIAC softball final

St. Joseph High’s Nicole Williams stranded the tying run on third base with a strike out in the top of the sixth inning and coach Jeff Babineau’s top-seeded Cadets fought off a game rally by the third-seeded Stamford High squad, to win a 2-1 decision in the FCIAC softball championship game held at Pioneer Park on the campus of Sacred Heart University on Friday.

“The last few innings I had a lot of adrenalin flowing, I could feel myself shake,” said Williams, who was named MVP after leading unbeaten St. Joseph to its second straight FCIAC title.

“I told myself that we’re up (on the scoreboard) and I’m not going to let these seniors leave here without a championship.”

The Cadets scored runs in the first and second innings before being blanked the rest of the way by sophomore Sara Staley, as the lefthanded sophomore had batters off stride with exceptional off-speed pitches.

Stamford left solo runners on base in the first (two-out walk), second (one-out single) and third (two-out double).

Williams then set down seven straight hitters before coach Tony Esposito’s Black Knights halved the deficit they faced in the top of the sixth innng.

Lauren O’Neill, the team’s lead-off batter, opened the frame with a single to left field, the third hit off Williams.

An infield error on a ball off the bat of Maria Zecena put the tying run on base, but Williams enticed a ground ball to third, with Katie Gardella making a fine play.

The productive out, however, moved both runners up a bag and Nicole Pease’ sacrifice fly to right field brought O’Neill home.

This is when Williams reached back, going up the ladder with pitches to post her fourth strikeout and end the inning.

Williams struck out the first two batters in the seventh before getting a fly ball out to Lauren Blose in left field.

“FCIAC titles are hard to come by and I’ll take this one along with last year’s,” Babineau said.

“Sara Staley did a great job changing speeds. She did what you have to do to shutdown a good hitting team.”

St. Joseph scored an unearned run in the bottom of the first inning.

Lauren Pitney walked and Melissa Bike reached on an infield error.

Jovanna Hillman’s grounder off Staley’s glove found second baseman Brianna Arias, who stepped on the bag for the force out.

That left runners on the corners for Williams, who hit the ball sharply to shortstop and Pitney scored on the fielder’s choice.

Gardella ripped the Cadets first hit to right field with one out in the second and Kayla Giacobbe followed with a sharp liner that handcuffed the fielder for a single.

After a wild pitch advanced the runners, Staley fielded Hanna Errico’s comebacker and after looking the runner back got the out at first.

Stamford chose to intentionally walk Pitney to load the bases. Bike and Staley then dueled for eight pitches before Bike’s RBI walk brought the score to 2-0.

Haley Lamotta made a fine play at third base to keep the score there, but Williams proved to be tough to beat.

“Nicole got stronger,” Babineau said about his righthanded junior. “For the last six outs, I told her to pitch it like we practice. She’s a winner.”