STONINGTON — Stonington High battled back from an early five-run deficit to take the lead, but needed some late-game heroics to pull off the victory Thursday.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Maddie Stepski singled to score Tori LoPresto, who slid hard into home plate with the winning run, as the Bears defeated visiting Killingly, 7-6, in walk-off style in an ECC Division II softball game.
It was the third hit and fourth RBI of the day for Stepski, a freshman. LoPresto started the inning with a four-pitch walk, and moved to second on a bunt by senior Colette Dreher. That brought Stepski to the plate.
She made solid contact on a 1-1 pitch, lofting the ball over the shortstop and into the gap in left-center field. Killingly center fielder Hannah Mason had a strong throw that beat LoPresto to the plate, but Killingly catcher Hannah Morrison couldn't field the ball cleanly and never had possession while positioning herself to take the slide.
“I know I just needed a base hit — not a bomb, because we just needed [LoPresto] to score — and to get it to a gap," Stepski said, "so when it got past the shortstop I was really happy.”
Stonington coach Ann-Marie Houle said that in situations like Stepski's, she always tries to get her players to relax.
“You gotta stay loose,” Houle said. “If you let the pressure of the situation get to you, you're not going to perform. So I tell the kids all the time, try to have fun, live in the moment and enjoy it. … She works hard every day. She's a quiet kid, and she does so many things that aren't seen, and today she had two great hits.”
The Bears (3-1, 2-0 Division II) started the game in a 5-0 hole after two innings, with the Redgals (3-3, 0-3) benefiting from five walks, two wild pitches and one hit batter.
Elaina Previty pitched the final five innings to earn the win, allowing one earned run on four hits and nine walks in 6 2/3 innings. She struck out four.
“I thought Elaina did a fantastic job," Houle said. "This is her first time at varsity. She's kind of been a reliever in the fifth and sixth innings up until now. I thought she did well. We're working things out [with our pitchers].”
The Bears bounced back with six runs across the second, third and fifth innings. Stepski plated the Bears' first run in the bottom of the second, with a liner into left field to score Dreher.
Stepski scored two batters later, on a scary play, as sophomore Shea O'Connor hit a hot liner directly back into the ribs of Killingly pitcher Alexis Faucher. She immediately crumpled in pain, and the game was delayed for about 10 minutes as a trainer checked on her. But Faucher stayed in the game.
The next batter, senior Miranda Arrunda, plated O'Connor with a sharp liner to right to make 5-3 before the Bears' inning ended.
In the third, Stepski knocked in two more runs — Maggie Constantine and Dreher – with a two-out triple to deep left field to tie the game at 5.
“That felt great, because I hadn't been hitting well the first couple of games, so it was really awesome to get that one with a couple people on base,” she said.
Stonington took a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the fifth. Freshman Phoebe Werling drew a full-count walk, and she moved to second on an infield hit by Constantine. A bunt by LoProsto moved the runners up, and Werling scored on a bloop to left field, just past the shortstop and third baseman, by Dreher.
But Killingly tied things up in the top of the seventh, with Bree Caffrey scoring a on a sacrifice fly and setting up the dramatic bottom half of the inning.
Houle said she expects more close games in the future.
“We're used to, in the past, beating teams by a lot,” she said, adding that she didn't anticipate that happening this season. “Every game we're going to learn something new about ourselves, and we're going to need to squeak out wins.”