Wilton softball team tops Warde in state opener

Making its first state tournament appearance since 2011, the Wilton High softball team pulled off an upset on Tuesday.

Sporting new uniforms with their names on the jerseys, the 24th-seeded Warriors defeated ninth-seed Fairfield Warde, 4-2, in a Class LL first-round game in Fairfield.

Before the game began, Wilton looked to have its stars aligned. The Warriors drew a familiar opponent, an FCIAC rival whom they had beaten during the regular season; they didn’t have to travel far for the game; and they had the dugout that was in the shade.

In the top of the first inning, the first three Wilton batters attacked the first pitch they saw. With one out, co-captain Eliza Ward reached on a two-base error. But the visitors were not able to take advantage, leaving Ward stranded.

Wilton's Sage Zunda retired the first six batters she faced, as the game was scoreless through two innings. Zunda’s counterpart on the mound, Warde’s Gabriella Natoli, allowed just the one runner in the first.

Both teams scored a run in the third inning. In the top half, Hannah Belanger tried to stretch a one-out double into a triple but was tagged out by the Warde shortstop. Ward then singled and stole second before scoring on Zunda's single just inside the foul line in right field.

In the bottom of the inning, a leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt and a single off Zunda’s glove put Warde runners on the corners with one out. The next batter bunted to Zunda, who looked the runner at third back and threw to first. But the throw was dropped, and the lead runner scored to tie the game at 1-1.

The Warriors were still in a jam with just one out and Mustangs on first and third. But Wilton shortstop Sophia Strazza caught a hard line drive and quickly threw to third baseman Juliana Musilli to double off the runner for an inning-ending double play.

In the top of the fourth, the Warriors benefited from two Warde errors to take a 3-1 lead. With one out, Emily Ettie singled and Maddie Christl reached on an infield error. Musilli then singled to right field, driving home Ettie, and when the Mustangs' outfielder committed a throwing error on the play, Christl came around to score.

The Warriors upped their lead to 4-1 with another run in the fifth. With two outs, back-to-back singles by Strazza and Emma Cropper were followed by an RBI single from Ettie that scored Strazza.

Warde responded with its only earned run of the game in the bottom of the fifth. Oliva Vadas led off with a double and came around to score on a one-out single by Abrianna Natoli.

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Mustangs got two singles and looked to further cut into Wilton's lead. But a fly ball to leftfielder Pippa Gosden ended the threat.

Needing three more outs in the bottom of the seventh to seal the victory, the Warriors relied on Zunda’s pitching, second baseman Julia Schiavone’s glove and arm, and first baseman Cate McCabe's glove. All three outs came on grounders to Schiavone, who made the short throws over to McCabe to end the game.

“This is a huge win for this program and the seniors that stayed with it over the down times," said Wilton head coach Brian Jacobs. “We’ve told them all year long to be aggressive at the plate, and if the first pitch looks good go after it. This team plays smart, supports one another, and is there to pick up their teammate if needed. They have built confidence within themselves to go out and be competitive with any team, and they have shown great work ethic in practice and in games."

“We have come together as a team this year,"said Ettie, one of only two seniors on Wilton's roster, along with Schiavone. "We’ve gotten good defense this year and we can depend on our offense to score runs for us, which wasn’t always the case in previous years.”