Wilton 9s peak at right time, win pool at FCFSL 10-U tourney

After notching only one win in the Fairfield County Fastpitch Softball League during the regular season, the Wilton 9-U travel softball team wasn’t exactly one of the favorites going into last weekend’s FCFSL 10-U ‘B’ tournament.

But in a performance that was as surprising as it was impressive, the Wilton girls finished pool play undefeated at 3-0 on Saturday, before falling in the elimination round on Sunday.

The 9-U team finished the weekend at 3-1, and was the only team to defeat the eventual 'B' champ, the Wilton 10-U squad.

“The found themselves overmatched a lot of the times (during the season) but learned a great deal and came together as a team to put it all together in the tournament,” said Matt McMahon, who was one of the team’s coaches along with Pam and Christa Nessel, his wife Mary Beth and Amanda Samai. “Expectations were greatly exceeded.”

“It all came together. It was amazing to see that happen,” said Pam Nessel.

The team featured 11 players: Piper Bittner, Grace Couch, Kaitlin Feldman, Ava Gaudio, Annie McMahon, Sarah Morris, Ellie Qudeen, Grace Qudeen, Sofia Samai, Nicole Sanfilippo and Emma van Heyst (the team’s only eight-year-old).

The tournament, held at Middlebrook School, began for the Wilton 9s on Saturday. They opened with a 16-7 win over the CT Blast, and followed that up with a 9-4 win over the Wilton 10s, before ending the big day with a 20-12 win over Darien.

On Sunday, the team was ousted in the quarterfinals by Darien.

Coach Nessel said the team’s tournament performance was the culmination of everything the girls had been practicing all season.

“We did it both on offense and defense. We had hitting. We were running the bases smartly and aggressively. On defense they made the plays and our pitcher Grace Couch was doing a phenomenal job,” she said. “The girls brought it. I”m so happy for them, that they got to experience it.”

The team was anchored by Couch, who was the primary pitcher and was “at times unhittable,” said coach McMahon.

Couch was also one of the team’s big bats at the plate, along with Samai — who also saw time in the pitching circle.

The Qudeen sisters were also big hitters on offense, while McMahon and Gaudio provided key hits and van Heyst was an effective and speedy leadoff hitter.

Sanfilippo was another tough out, as well as providing reliable defense at third base and all three outfield spots. Morris, in her first year of softball, grew into a team leader and was a solid outfielder who also got on base a number of times.

Feldman had some key hits, and turned in solid play in centerfield and at first base, while Bitter got on base often and played a slick second base as well as solid right field.

Catching duties were shared by Ellie Qudeen and McMahon.

The regular season proved a struggle. Not only was the team in its first year of travel ball, but most of the time had to play opponents who older and more experienced. While the wins may not have come, seeing they could play with the older girls did help the Wilton 9s believe in their ability to compete.

“The experience was good for the team’s confidence. Our girls learned a lot from it,” said coach Nessel. “A lot of it was because they faced teams that were stronger than us, and them learning from watching them.”

Coach McMahon said the team has the potential to do some big things in the future — starting next season.

“I think people in the program are hopeful there will be big things from this group in the future,” he said. “I’ve coached a bunch of the girls from T-ball and seen them grow. I believe this is a special group of youth athletes. To do as well as they did (at the tournament) was a great building block.”