Westhill’s Jen Joseph pitches against Trumbull during yesterday’s FCIAC championship game.
The biggest surprise in the aftermath of yesterday’s FCIAC softball championship is not that Trumbull defeated Westhill, 3-1, denying the Vikings a third straight championship.
It is that Westhill went unbeaten for as long as it did.
As we move into the state tournament, which begins on Tuesday, the conference season will be remembered as one of the most balanced in recent memory. There was not a great amount of separation between the top six teams. It would have been somewhat startling but not stunning if one of the two Fairfield teams, which were seeded fifth (Warde) and sixth (Ludlowe), had run the table.
There were more good pitchers spread around throughout the league. And, in softball, the pitcher has arguably the greatest impact on the outcome of games than any other position in any other sport.
The Vikings came into the final with a 22-0 mark, one of the more impressive accomplishments of the high school season. They rode one of the best pitchers in Jen Joseph, and the underrated shortstop Julianne Vincent, who was one of the league’s most complete players. The rest of the team is comprised primarily of underclassmen and first-year starters.
From a personnel standpoint, Westhill was not that much better than the FCIAC’s other top-tier teams. Just look at the outcome of its games against the top six seeds in the playoffs.
The Vikings defeated St. Joseph by two runs, Trumbull by a run, Darien twice by a run, Warde by three runs and Ludlowe by a run. That’s a 6-0 mark with a nine-run differential.
What made Westhill so successful? Joseph’s pitching was the most important commodity. But equally important was the team’s penchant for not making mistakes and beating itself. Errors were as rare as wooden nickels. Different players stepped up to provide timely hits, which often became the difference in one- or two-run games. And if an opponent made a mistake, the Vikings pounced.
It was cruel irony that Trumbull’s win yesterday was borrowed from the exact template the Vikings had used in their first 22 games, which led to it scoring three runs. That is the most Westhill has allowed this season.
If there was a game representative of the Vikings’ spring, it was their 2-1 semifinal win over Darien. Joseph pitched well. Allison Macari came through with the game-winning double in the sixth inning. Allie Souza made a spectacular diving catch in center field. And Brittany Horn executed two perfect bunts that moved Vincent into scoring position. She scored both times.
If there has been one constant, it is Westhill operating as a true ensemble.
There is a reason just one team has won three straight FCIAC softball titles. That was accomplished by Norwalk, which won four straight.
The last one came 29 years ago.
There have been many, more experienced teams in league history that did not experience the level of success the Vikings have had this spring. That is because few of them played in such a cohesive manner.
Yesterday the Vikings lost to a Trumbull team that won behind the solid pitching of Alex Puglisi, that came through with a few clutch hits and capitalized on their chances.
As the picture at the top of this post shows, there were not a lot of tears after the game. I sense the Vikings, though extremely disappointed, in the moment were still able to appreciate their entire body of work to date.
It also helped that Joseph, who along with Vincent are two outstanding captains, gathered her teammates after the game and told them, “Don’t worry about it, we still have states.”
Westhill will lose three starters, but have a good young nucleus to build around. Macari will step in at pitcher, Horn is an outstanding second baseman, Souza could move to shortstop, Eileen Tublin and Cassandra Kish are productive hitters and Elizabeth Joseph a top-notch catcher. There is a stable of players waiting for their chances.
The Vikings’ future is bright.
And, with the state tournament about to begin, so is their present.
NOTES: The Vikings got a lot of respect in the All-FCIAC voting. Jen Joseph, Vincent, Horn and Kish were picked to the first team. Macari and Souza earned second-team honors, while Tublin and Elizabeth Joseph were honorable mention selections.