Capping a perfect weekend on the rain-soaked field at The Millbrook School, the Cheshire Academy Fighting Cats Softball Team laid claim to this year’s Western New England Prep School Athletic Conference Class C Championship, sending the historians scrambling to confirm what might be the school’s first-ever softball championship.
If it is true that to BE the best, you must BEAT the best, then the Cats have left no doubt in their wake as this weekend’s championship ran directly through the year’s regular season Champion (St. Luke’s School, semi-finals) and the two-time defending WNEPSAC Class C Champion (Millbrook, finals).
On a rainy day that promised a slippery track, both teams slogged through a climactic rematch of the teams’ unforgettable regular season matchup. In that one, Millbrook rallied from behind to win 5-4 in the tenth inning.
This time, however, it was a different Cat team that made the long trip to Millbrook. Coming off a 2-1 semi-final nailbiter with St. Luke’s School, a game the Cats won despite only tallying one hit, these Cats were a more confident bunch which looked with great desire at the chance to snatch the brass ring. And the Cats didn’t come alone. Families, friends, faculty members and staff also made the long trip to support the Cats in pursuit of what might have seemed to many at the start of the season an impossible dream.
Millbrook struck first on a leadoff single by tireless Millbrook secondbaseman Melissa Sheeran. A CA throwing miscue chased the runner around to third before she scored on a sacrifice fly to right field, leaving the Cats in a 1-0 hole. As the rain picked up, the Cheshire nine had to steel their resolve. This was not an unfamiliar spot for the team. Indeed, the most striking difference in this year’s team as it has grown and matured has been its ability to bounce back. For the sixth time in their last seven games, the Cats dug an early hole. And as has become their custom, they would battle back.
In the top of the third, Devin Morrison's leadoff single got the slumbering Cat offense going. A passed ball and Nikki Lamberti’s ground out moved the runner to third. With two outs, Emma Gailey quickly fell behind into an 0-2 count before lacing the next pitch into leftfield for a game-tying double.
The third and fourth innings passed quietly as the steady rain continued to fall and the tension rose. Large crowds from both sides hung on every pitch as the pitchers held the bats silent.
In the top of the fifth, however, the Cheshire side would rise, mounting the decisive rally. Devin Morrison, who seemed to be involved in just about everything all day worked a full count walk to light the fuse. Kayla Padroff’s triple to deep right chased Morrison around the bases. Relay throw to third sailed past the Millbrook third baseman and Padroff waltzed across the plate with an insurance run which would ultimately prove the difference in the game. Two outs later, Shyla Boutilier drove another two strike pitch into the same right field gap Padroff had found for a double. A walk to Taylor Ettore and a beautifully executed double steal placed runners at second and third with two outs. The Millbrook pitcher would get the third out, but not before a passed ball allowed Boutilier to score the Cats fourth run.
Millbrook would inch a run closer in the sixth on a long double to center and a single up the middle, but the Cats countered in the 7th with a run of their own. Emma Gailey’s two out triple found the deepest corner of right field. Chaela Branciforte entered as a courtesy runner for the pitcher and scored on a beautifully executed double steal with Boutelier. That run would seal the 5-2 finish.
The day ended fittingly as Taylor Ettore squeezed Emma Gailey’s ninth strikeout of the game and the Cheshire faithful spun into delirium.
As the Cats flooded the field, one couldn’t help but wonder on this improbable collection of champions. Most are not even softballers first. They are soccer players and volleyball players. They are hockey players, basketballers and swimmers. But for one glorious afternoon, in the misting rain, they stood together, in front of the scoreboard that trumpeted their triumph. One Team. One Dream. And on this day, the best darn team in the land. Something no one will ever be able to take away from them.
CA Softball. 2013 WNEPSAC Champions!
Article and photo from Cheshire Academy