Softball: First-inning rally carries Wilton past Staples

Playing its third game in three days, the Wilton High softball team used solid defense and pitching to beat Staples, 3-1, on Wednesday night at home.

The Warriors, who qualified for the state tournament with another win earlier this week, raised their record to 9-8 with the victory.

Wednesday's contest got off to a fast start, as all of the game's scoring took place in the first inning.

In the top of the first, Staples' lead-off hitter reached on an error and later scored on a two-out single, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.

In the bottom of the inning, Wilton batted around and used six singles to plate three runs and go ahead, 3-1. The Warriors could have done more damage in the inning as the final out was recorded with the bases loaded.

Hannah Belanger led off with a single and stole second. Eliza Ward followed with a single, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Sage Zunda then grounded out, with Belanger scoring on the play.

Sophia Strazza's single scored Ward, and with two outs Juliana Musilli singled home Wilton's third run of the inning. Emma Cropper and Maddie Christl also had singles for the Warriors in the bottom of the first.

The three-run rally was all Wilton needed, as Zunda scattered four hits over the remaining six innings and got great defensive play behind her to shut down the Wreckers. Wilton freshman Strazza turned in several gems at shortstop, going up the middle to track down balls that got by Zunda and gunning down runners with ease.

Zunda seemed to get stronger as the game progressed, retiring Staples in order in the top of the seventh to close out the victory. The final out came on a grounder to second that Wilton senior co-captain Julia Schiavone fielded and fired to first.

“The team has come a long way during my time on the team; I think we won three games in my first year,” said Schiavone. “The younger players have contributed a lot to the team and made us better.

"We’ve learned to come back from having a bad inning in the field," added Schiavone. "In the past we would kind of get down on ourselves and not battle back."

“We got a great pitching performance from Sage (Zunda) and good all-around play on defense,” said Wilton head coach Brian Jacobs. “Zunda battled all game, and when she fell behind in the count she made the adjustments she needed to get the outs.”

Jacobs went on to say that Wilton has benefited from game intensity and intelligence this year while playing more aggressively in the field and at the plate. Jacobs also credited the work of assistant coach [and former head coach] Bruce Cunningham, who returned to the field this year.

“Bruce brings a lot of softball knowledge and experience to the team, and we are both on the same page and have a lot in common when it comes to coaching the team," said Jacobs. "We can split up the team in practice and work on more skills.”

Notes: Staples pitcher Catherine Connell, a freshman, also turned in a solid performance, holding the Warriors to no runs and one hit after the first inning.

With its 24-6 triumph over Brien McMahon on Monday, Wilton qualified for the state tournament for the first time since 2011. The Warriors rallied for 13 runs in the sixth inning to pull away for the win.

Zunda led the way with a fence-clearing grand slam in the sixth inning. She finished with three hits and six RBIs and also struck out eight McMahon batters to earn the victory on the mound. Belanger collected four hits and Cropper had three hits.

Wilton lost to Trumbull, 15-3, on Tuesday in Trumbull. The game was the make-up of a rainout last week.