With hustle, poise, Canton tops Coginchaug, 4-2 for first state championship since 1991
CANTON, June 14 – A thrilling season had just come to an end for the Canton High boys basketball team in an overtime loss to Bridgeport’s Kolbe Cathedral in the Class S quarterfinals. Players, parents and fans were proud but subdued as they made the walk back to the buses parked outside of Wilby High in Waterbury.
But when assistant coach Doug Clements was asked about his Canton softball team, he couldn’t hold back his enthusiasm. With eight starters returning from a team that won 16 games in 2008, he knew it was a team that had a chance to be special. To challenge them, he scheduled a home-and-away series with New Britain, the second-largest school in the state.
The season didn’t quite turn out as expected. Canton (13-5, 9-3 NCCC) fell one game shy of its quest for a league championship, losing three NCCC contests by a combined four runs and finishing a game out of first place. The Warriors were 2-2 in its final four games, including a 12-0 loss to Ellington in the semifinals of the NCCC tournament.
Canton wasn’t down, though. Junior pitcher Maureen Gauthier missed the final week of the regular season with a sore hip but was ready when the Class S tournament began. Sophomore first baseman Sarah Benedetti returned to the lineup in the final week after missing several games with a concussion.
In the tournament, the Warriors played with abandon and poise to win its second-ever state championship with a thrilling 4-2 victory over defending champion Coginchaug-Durham before 500 vocal fans at Deluca Field in Stratford.
With two outs, runners on second and third base and the score tied at 2-2 in the top of the seventh, Clement decided to let second baseman Sarah Sapia, hobbled by a sprained ankle suffered in the semifinal win over Derby, try to lay down a sacrifice bunt.
Coginchaug third baseman Elizabeth Sansevero gobbled up the bunt but her throw to second baseman Makayla Davis covering first base was low. Davis dropped the ball and Sapia was safe on the Devils’ fifth error of the game. In the meantime, Melissa Parente raced home from third base and catcher Jess Schroeder galloped home from second base, never even glancing at Clement coaching third base to see if she should stop or continue home.
“Before I could see where she was, (Schroeder) was rolling over the plate with her head-first slide,” Clement said. “That is a four-year starter taking care of business. Nothing was going to slow her down.”
Two runs scored and Canton was on its way to its first state title since 1991.
Smart hitting set up Sapia’s bunt. Melissa Parente singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Moe Gauthier. Parente moved to third on a single by Schroder, who moved to second when Fran Klimczak popped out.
In the bottom of the seventh, Coginchaug’s Taylor Delvecchio doubled to lead off the inning but Canton’s Monique Gauthier retired the next three batters, striking out Jess Plourde to end the game. Gauthier finished with eight strikeouts.
Throughout the tournament, Canton (18-6) made things happen, especially at the plate with key at-bats.
“Everyone had so much patience,” Clement said. “They approached each at-bat as if it is their last. They’re patient and they know the strike zone.”
In the quarterfinals against No. 2 Terryville, Canton faced two-time All-State pitcher Beth Grimes. With two outs in the first inning, Melissa Parente singled and Mo Gauthier coaxed a walk. Schroeder ripped a bullet single between third base and shortstop, scoring Parente.
“That was the play that I think the whole team said we can really do this,” Clement said. “That was the hit that we turned the corner. That’s when we started to believe.”
In the second inning, three Canton batters coaxed walks from Grimes and Sapia scored on a wild pitch. Freshman Stephanie Gauthier ripped an RBI single in the fourth for a 3-0 lead.
On the mound, Mo Gauthier was poised. Twice, Terryville had runners on second and third base. She got out of the jam in the fifth and gave up just a run in the sixth. Gauthier struck out eight and fanned seven. “We had to play perfectly and we did,” Clement said.
In the semifinals against No. 11 Derby at Biondi Field in West Haven, Canton again faced a top-notch pitcher – senior Christina Gelardi, who will play at the University of New Haven next fall. But the Warriors scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to earn a 4-3 victory.
Trailing by one run, Mo Gauthier led off the sixth with a single and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from Schroeder. Normally, Frances Klimczak would bunt as the No. 6 hitter. But Clement decided to let her swing away.
“I rolled the dice,” he said. “I wanted them to make the play.”
Klimczak dropped in a single into shallow center field and Gauthier was able to elude the throw at the plate to tie the game at 3-3. Klimczak moved to second on the throw home and moved to third base on a sacrifice bunt from Sapia. Benedetti crushed a pitch to right/center field for an RBI triple and a 4-3 lead.
In the top of the seventh, Mo Gauthier struck out the side, finishing with 11 strikeouts.“I never saw her throw as hard as she did in the first four innings against Derby,” Clement said. “She has really elevated her game.”
With a sore hip, Mo Gauthier missed the final week of the season including a 1-0 loss to New Britain in nine innings and the 12-0 run loss to Ellington. But she was ready to go in the state tournament. In the opener, she struck out six and scattered three hits in five innings in a 16-4 first round win over Tourtellotte.
In a 6-0 second round win over Platt Tech of Meriden, Gauthier took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Sara Taylor managed to get a two-out single just over first base into shallow right field. Gauthier struck out 10.
Gauthier battled through the championship game against Coginchaug. She had a sinus infection that resulted in a stiff headache and her hip was bothering her again, as it did in the final weeks of the season. Still, she scattered six hits, struck out eight and was named the tournament MVP.
No. 10 Canton took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when freshman Stephanie Gauthier singled to centerfield and scored on an error. Coginchaug tied it in the second inning on a wild pitch. Canton took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning when pinch runner Rose Minichiello scored on Stephanie Gauthier’s infield single.
In the sixth, Coginchaug tied it 2-2 when Mallorie Dorflinger walked and scored on a single by Elizabeth Sansevero to centerfield. Coginchaug’s Julia Giancola tried to score from second base but Canton’s Stephanie Gauthier came up with the ball quickly and fired it to Schoreder, who blocked the plate and tagged out Giancola to prevent the Blue Devils from taking the lead.
“Everytime Terryville, Derby or Coginchaug tried to get some momentum, someone came up with a big play,” Clement said.
With one out in the sixth, senior Nicole Batan made a great diving catch in right field on a dying fly ball. In the fifth, Klimczak made an unbelievable sliding catch in left field.
This was Coginchaug’s fifth straight appearance in the Class S title game. They had won 10 titles, including three of the last five. But on this day, it was time for Canton.
DIAMOND DUST: Upon their return to Canton, the team bus stopped by the Collinsville Fire Department’s jamboree to celebrate with fans and residents with a vocal celebration near the ferris wheel. About 50 fans and residents were waiting to celebrate with the team upon their return to the high school. … Clement credited the competition with the NCCC for helping prepare his team. “They had such quality pitching and they way they approached the game helped us. We were ready for the tournament,” he said. … Canton ended up No. 10 in the final New Haven Register softball poll by the state sportswriters and No. 11 in the Connecticut Sports Writers Alliance poll.
Path to a title
Game highlights: Jess Schroeder 2-4, Melissa Parente 2-3, Sarah Benedetti 1st sac bunt of the season in 1st inning; CF Stephanie Gauthier throws out runner at home in 6th