Danielle Simoneau coaches New Canaan during Thursday’s FCIAC championship game.
Danielle Simoneau doesn’t tell the members of the New Canaan softball team much about her playing career.
They probably don’t know that Simoneau was one of the best pitchers in state history, first at Westhill — where she was All-State four times — and then at the University of Hartford — where she holds numerous records and is in the alumni Hall of Fame.
On Thursday afternoon, Simoneau added another distinction to her long and impressive resume: she became the first person to win an FCIAC title as a player and a coach.
New Canaan, the No. 6 seed, which had never won a league playoff game before Monday, won its first-ever title with a 2-1 upset of top-seeded St. Joseph at Sacred Heart University.
The two league titles came, almost to the day, 20 years apart.
Simoneau is as modest as she is successful. When asked if there was a difference winning a championship as a coach than a player, she said, “I didn’t win. This is not mine. This is theirs. They made the plays. They hit, they threw the ball. I was a bystander watching. They definitely earned it.”
Rachele Fico’s Instagram message announcing her father’s death on Monday morning.
As her father lay dying in a hospital bed over an hour away in New Orleans, Oxford’s Rachele Fico still found the strength to pitch.
The former Masuk superstar and All-American pitcher at Louisiana State University locked herself into a two-day duel with Louisiana-Lafayette pitcher Jordan Wallace, trying to defy the odds and get her team back to the NCAA softball super regionals.
Ralph and Lee Fico watch their daughter pitch for LSU in this undated family photo.
Ralph, a tall, tanned and imposing, yet gentle man who seemed planted forever near the backstop at Rachele’s high school games, first took her to a lesson when she was 9.
Rachele had fallen in love with the sport while tagging along with her dad and older brother, Nick, to batting practices in Shelton. “That’s how it all started for me,” she told the Connecticut Post in 2008.
Over time, endless practice sessions in Oxford and travel tournaments across the country — “100 pitches a day for five or six days a week, 30,000 pitches a year,” he once estimated — Ralph fed his daughter’s passion for softball and was an enormous influence on her development into one of the most dominant pitchers Connecticut has ever seen.
At Masuk, Rachele Fico threw 95 shutouts, 47 no-hitters, 26 perfect games (a national high school record) and just eight earned runs in four years. She won four SWC titles and a pair of state championships.
There was some incredulity when the Connecticut kid decided to play for a perennial national power like LSU. Yet, Rachele — affectionately called ‘Rae’ by her doting father — was 78-43 with 792 career strikeouts.
Last year, she pitched LSU to the Women’s College World Series and was named the ninth All-American in LSU history. The Akron Racers took her No. 1 in the National Pro Fastpitch draft.
Meanwhile, the family arranged to get Ralph’s treatments in New Orleans, so he could continue to watch Rachele play. The disease finally took a fatal hold just as his prodigy’s career was about to end.
To hear Torino describe it, Fico’s final, losing performances with her dad weighing heavily on her mind were the best of her life.
“She is one of the bravest people I know,” Torina said, who took a moment and continued with her voice choked with emotion after the 1-0 loss on Sunday. “She is an unbelievable competitor.”
“For that kid to go out there and pitch those two games the way she did and stay focused with her dad going through everything he’s going through, and he continues to fight. With her doing that knowing he is in such grave condition, I can’t imagine what that takes.
“She is such a special, special competitor. I sensed it the day I got here. The talent Rachele Fico brings to this program is such a small part of what she brings to this program. She is just a fantastic person, teammate… She’s the type of kid everybody would die to coach. She is just going to leave a mark on this program so different than what you see on the walls.”
Ralph, Rachele and Lee Fico pose after an LSU game. (Fico family)
Jenn Vazquez and her St. Joseph teammates are the team to beat in the FCIAC Tournament.
St. Joseph and Westhill entered today’s game with identical 15-3 overall and 14-2 league records. And with the top seed in next week’s FCIAC Tournament on the line, the Cadets came away with a convincing 8-2 win.
I will have an FCIAC Tournament preview in the paper this weekend. I’m thinking of doing a little more on my Overtime blog as well (including ranking the teams’ title chances, 1-8, which is probably a fruitless task).
I don’t remember there ever being greater parity in the league. While a few outcomes might produce some minor surprises, I can’t say any would shock me. Consider that Danbury clinched the No. 8 seed Wednesday night and will open the playoffs Monday at St. Joseph. The Hatters won the teams’ previous meeting, 8-7.
We aren’t going to show all of our cards just yet, but a few thoughts from today’s game:
— I thought this at 4 p.m. and it was confirmed two hours later: St. Joseph is definitely the favorite in the playoffs. The Cadets have the best balance of pitching, offense and defense in the league. No area is a weakness. Pitchers Tori Ceballos and Nicole Williams would each start for almost every other team in the league. The seven other entrants have either a noticeable shortcoming, or an area that is not a total strength.
Westhill coach Tom Pia said after the game the Cadets had to be considered the team to beat. That sentiment was echoed by the coach of another playoff team later in a phone conversation.
“They deserve to be No. 1,” Pia said. “I like them all around as a team. All nine players hit the ball well.”
— Don’t go writing Westhill off just yet. It still possesses as good an offense as there is in the league. The Vikings have been outscoring teams all year. Can the same team shut them down twice in eight days, if there is a rematch in the final? We will see.
— The loss cost the Vikings the No. 1 seed, but not much else. They will still be the No. 2 seed with a win Friday over Ridgefield and not have to face St. Joseph until the final. And if form holds, Stamford would be the No. 3 seed, we could have an all-Stamford semifinal and be assured of a team from the city in the final.
— When was the last time there were seven All-FCIAC players in a softball game at the same time? It has likely happened before, but not often. The voting was held by league coaches Tuesday night. Morgan Kurtz, Megan D’Alessandro, Tammy Wise and Kate Brainard of Westhill were honored, and Jenn Vazquez, Ceballos and Williams from St. Joseph.
— I am sure there were a lot of smiles on the faces of the St. Joseph players when they learned they will be playing Danbury in the first round. They want the rematch.
The Newtown and Brookfield high school softball teams have an important game coming up next Wednesday, as the Bobcats will visit Newtown and play under the lights at Treadwell Park at 7 p.m. in the inaugural Sandy Hook Memorial Game. The victims and the first responders of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy will be honored on what promises to be a fun night at the park, complete with a public address announcer and a D.J. — not to mention a good game of softball between two perennial powers. Admission will be free, and donations will be collected and given to charities related to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
“It was an unfortunate incident that happened and it’s still hard to comprehend that it happened. My heart goes out to them,” Brookfield coach Frank Bonacci said Tuesday following his team’s 8-1 loss to undefeated Masuk. “I’m a Newtown resident, so it hits a little closer to home for me.”
Westhill, Darien and Trumbull have been the teams to beat in the FCIAC the past five seasons. This spring, Greenwich has put itself right in the mix.
Alison Kach has the Cardinals looking like contenders. (Bob Luckey/STaff photographer)
The Cardinals are in the midst of one of their best seasons in years. After Friday’s 11-9 win over visiting Westhill – their first victory over the Vikings since the 2004 season – the Cardinals are in 11-4 on the season and an impressive 12-3 in the ultra-competitive FCIAC.
GHS coach Mary Beth Fratello told me after Friday’s win vs. Westhill that the team also hasn’t qualified for the FCIAC Tournament since 2004, but the victory against the Vikings went a long way toward putting the Cardinals in position to do so. If the season ended today, the Cards would indeed, be in the conference tournament. The difference between this year’s Cardinals team and previous years’ squads? As Fratello puts it, this team can string hits together, pitch and play strong defense. In other words, the Cardinals are a well rounded team that doesn’t rely solely on its pitcher or small ball to win games.
Senior Alison Kach has been one of the FCIAC’s top pitchers the past two seasons, consistently giving the team quality starts. But this year’s Cardinals team has also been led by its deep lineup. Junior shortstop Rebecca Decarlo (2 for 4, two runs scored against Westhill) has jump started the team from the top of the lineup all season. Second baseman Colleen Bennett (3 for 4, two runs scored vs. Westhill) is a clutch No. 2 hitter, while Kach (3 for 4, two RBI Friday) brings power and run production from the No. 3 spot in the order.
Junior catcher Erin Ferguson, who had three hits and three RBI Friday, is a force at the cleanup spot in the order, as is first baseman Ebba Mark, who bats fifth. Erin White, Madison Burhans,Kaitlyn Gowans and Jenn Ambrogio (2-run triple vs. Westhill) have also provided punch from the bottom of the order.
“It seems like lately, everything is coming together,” Fratello said. “This team makes some noise with its hitting, gets great pitching and plays timely defense. Everybody is contributing.”
Said Bennett: “It’s not just coming from one spot in the order. We’re really good at starting rallies and we keep them going.”
The Cardinals, who have already qualified for the state tournament, showed they are a team to watch heading into the postseason, and Friday’s victory certainly gave them a shot in the arm.
“This is a big deal,” Kach said. “We haven’t beaten Westhill in a very long time, so we were looking out for them from the beginning of the season. There’s only two weeks left in the season, so we need to focus and work hard.”
Masuk defeated Lauralton Hall 5-0 Wednesday. (file photo)
Over the years working at the Post I’ve seen my fair share of high school softball.
Based on that experience, Masuk this year has the look of a team that should make some noise in the postseason.
Granted in a one-off playoff scenario and facing a tough pitcher anything can happen, but Masuk seems to have the right balance this year.
For one, the Panthers might have more lineup depth than they’ve ever had, even during the Rachele Fico years. Top to bottom this year’s Masuk team can hit.
Pitching Tatum Buckley does enough to overpower most hitters.
The big leap forward for Masuk this year is actually not even on the field between the lines, says coach Jacqui Sheftz.
“This team is extremely focused right now,” she said. “We’re not only working on the physical aspect of the game, but we’ve worked hard on improving the mental aspect of the preparation for the game of softball. Right now we’re playing great team softball.”
And that’s the key with Masuk: team softball.
As good as Buckley is, everybody on the team contributes as they did in a 5-0 win over Lauralton Hall on Wednesday. Six different players had hits in the five-run fourth inning. In the field, everybody on Masuk made the plays they had to make.
“We just have a mindset and we’re all on the same page,” Ashely Fedor said. “Last year we were still young, now we’re all upperclassmen so we get where we stand.”
The two teams met earlier in the year. Buckley threw a perfect game vs. the Crusaders.
Still, Lauralton coach Theresa Napolitano saw improvement from her team.
“This was our measure to see if we’ve gone farther and we have,” she said. “We’re a sophomore-based team.”
Not a lot of changes in the Register weekly high school softball poll.
Rockville is still No. 1 and Masuk right behind at No. 2, although the Panthers are gaining some steam with six first-place votes.
There are no FCIAC teams remaining in the top 10 after Westhill dropped out.
Register Top 10 Softball Poll
Team Points Last Class
1. Rockville (12) (7-0) 526 1 L 2. Masuk (6) (8-0) 514 2 L
3. Maloney (7-0) 458 4 L
4. Southington (6-1) 400 6 LL 5. Amity (7-1) 372 3 LL
6. Torrington (10-0) 359 8 L 7. Oxford (5-1) 302 7 S 8. Foran (6-2) 252 5 L
9. East Haven (9-1) 221 NR M
10. Stonington (6-0) 186 NR M Dropped out: Waterford (9), Westhill (10).
First-place votes in parentheses and points tabulated on a 30-28-26-24-22-20-18-16-14-12-11-10-9-8-7 basis.
Others receiving votes: Waterford (5-2), 165; Berlin (6-0) and Hand (8-1), 153; East Lyme (6-0), 80; Westhill (5-2), 69; Brookfield (6-1), 64; Granby (5-0), 60; Seymour (6-2), 59; Fairfield Ludlowe (8-1), 39; Mercy (6-2), 37; Danbury (7-1), 29; West Haven (6-2), 28; Bristol Central (5-2), 16; Suffield (5-0) and Lauralton Hall (5-2), 9; North Branford (6-2) and North Haven (7-2), 8; Cheshire (6-3) and Haddam-Killingworth (5-2), 7.
The following voted: Mary Albl, Fairfield Minuteman; Marc Allard, Norwich Bulletin; Scott Aresco, Maloney; Tony Calcagni, Mercy; Mike Cardillo, Connecticut Post; George DeMaio, WELI; Vickie Fulkerson, The Day of New London; Kathleen Hoag, Cheshire; Mike Madera, Elm City Newspapers; Suzy Miner, Hale-Ray; Theresa Napolitano, Lauralton Hall; Ken Pereiras, Seymour; Mike Pucci, New Haven Register; Lori Riley, Hartford Courant; Mike Suppe, Hersam-Acorn; Liz Sutman, Waterford; Peter Vander Veer, Hersam-Acorn; Jimmy Zanor, Middletown Press.
Poll compiled by Mike Pucci.