After matching zeros for 11 innings with host Fairfield Warde, the Wilton High softball team looked destined for victory when Juliana Musilli hit a two-run homer in the top of the 12th inning Saturday afternoon.
The Mustangs had other plans.
Warde responded with three runs in the bottom of the 12th to walk off with a thrilling 3-2 victory, ending a long pitchers’ duel that unexpectedly turned into a slugfest for the final inning.
“We were within inches of getting out of here [with the win],” said Wilton coach Brian Jacobs, alluding to Warde’s tying run, which came with two outs on a sacrifice fly that produced a play at the plate.
Three singles later, the Mustangs were celebrating their victory.
“This is one of the best games I’ve seen in my career,” added Jacobs. “I’ve been a part of some amazing games here at Wilton.”
Warde improved to 10-1 with the victory while Wilton fell to 8-7. Despite the win-loss disparity, the Warriors made this about as even a contest as possible.
“When you battle, show heart, show guts, lay it all out there, make plays on offense, make plays on defense, and pitch well, good things happen,” Jacobs said.
Leading off the top of the 12th, Wilton’s Sophia Strazza smashed an opposite-field double to right field. Musilli hit the next pitch to deep left and ran hard around the bases for her ice-breaking two-run homer.
Maya Farrell singled to center and stole second base with two outs but was left stranded. That would have proven a big insurance run with the offenses suddenly taking center stage after Warde’s Olivia Vadas and Wilton pitching counterpart Claire Wilson baffled hitters all afternoon.
“Once you get to the fourth and fifth time through the batting order it starts to get tougher,” Jacobs said of the sudden pitching troubles after 11 innings of pure dominance.
Wilson mixed her breaking ball, curve, screwball, rise, and changeups to keep Warde on its heels in the batter’s box.
“Claire pitched one of the best games of her career. That was a really gutsy performance. She was hitting her spots, challenging hitters,” Jacobs said. “She was able to mix it up and hit her spots.”
Wilson struck out nine batters, five of them in the first three innings, including fanning the side in the third.
Warde’s first hit was a bunt single in the seventh inning, and that was the home team’s lone hit until the final inning. Warde finished with six hits.
The Mustangs had a base runner erased in the sixth when Wilton catcher Brooke Bohacs caught a bunt in the air and threw to second baseman Hannah Lifieri (covering first) to double up the runner.
A nice running catch in foul territory by first baseman Musilli helped Wilson pitch a perfect eighth inning.
Warde threatened in the ninth, getting its leadoff batter to second courtesy of a two-base error. Following a pop out, Wilton shortstop Strazza fielded a grounder and dove to tag the runner attempting to advance to third.
Bohacs then blocked a pitch in the dirt to keep the Warde runner at first — a play that proved important when the Mustangs got another base runner on an infield error. Unfazed, Wilson got the next batter on a fly out to keep the stalemate going.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Mustangs had more chances. Vadas was hit with a two-strike pitch and advanced to second on a bunt. A groundout to Lifieri at second turned into a double play thanks to Lifieri initially holding the runner at second before throwing to Musilli at first. Musilli then fired the ball to third baseman Farrell, who tagged out Vadas attempting to advance on the play.
Warde’s Sophie Sancho led off the bottom of the 12th with a line drive single. After a pop out, Haley Bibens crushed an RBI double and took third on the throw home. Vadas tied the game with a sacrifice fly, and singles by Avery Yardis, Amanda Petrizzi, and Julia Minichini produced the deciding run.
Wilton didn’t muster a hit until the ninth inning and finished with four base hits. Vadas got 25 of her 36 outs via strikeouts.
“Warde’s a great team. Olivia’s one of the best pitchers, not just in the league but in the state,” said Jacobs. “We’ve been battling her for four years now. I think this is best pitcher we’ve seen this year.
“They gave full effort; they did everything right,” added Jacobs about his players. “That’s all you can ask for as a coach.”