WINDSOR LOCKS, May 29 – For the players on the East Granby girls softball team, this is simply the way things are. They are close friends. They hang out together on and off the field. They win softball games.
The Crusaders have put together an amazing season. East Granby ran the table in the regular season going 20-0 and 16-0 in the North Central Connecticut Conference to win the league championship. It’s not unprecedented. Teams have put together undefeated seasons.
For East Granby, the smallest public high school in state, this is special season – really special. The 14 girls that make up the Crusader program probably don’t realize that today and it might take them a few years to fully realize the significance of what they have done this season.
East Granby coach Carl Ferrara knows. He has been coaching sports at East Granby for years, dating back to the 1990s. “I am proud of them,” he said. “This has been special.”
At most schools, especially the public high schools, the coaching staff must work with what they have. There is no recruiting of new talent or a mid-season acquisition to bolster your lineup or help out after a key injury.
With the really small programs, chemistry can be key. With 14 players, there is little leverage for the coach. It’s sometimes difficult to sit a player down for disciplinary reasons, a slump or because they may be feuding with a teammate. You need the player on the field to field a team.
This year’s Crusaders like each other. It shows on and off the field. Most attended a bonfire together on Saturday night. “We love each other,” junior shortstop Val Winalski said. “We all hang out together for fun. And our chemistry makes it work (on the field).”
Still, you need talent. East Granby had four players named to the All-NCCC squad on Friday night. Winalski made All-NCCC along with sophomore pitcher Genna Hartman, junior right fielder Caitlyn Daleb and freshman first baseman Lilly McCarthy.
What kinds of statistics do they have? Ferrara didn’t have them on hand when interviewed at the NCCC Tournament. “The important thing is that we have hung together as a group,” he said. “The key has been making key defensive plays even when we had a few errors and getting a key hit when we need it.”
McCarthy had game-winning RBI hits against Suffield and Granby in April. Hartman allowed just two hits in a 2-1 decision over Canton in May. She had 15 strikeouts and allowed one hit in the win over Suffield. Hartman had one of her eight shutouts this season in a 6-0 win over Ellington on the road on May 12.
“Once we beat Ellington, we knew could do this,” Winalski said. “A lot of people are surprised. We expected to do well but not as well as we did.”
This is first East Granby team to go undefeated in the regular season. They won the NCCC title. They are the first girls team to win a league championship since the Crusader girls basketball team in 1995-96 that went 15-1 in the NCCC, 19-1 in the regular season, advanced to the Class S semifinals and won 23 games.
Championships simply don’t happen often in East Granby. The last league title by a boys team at East Granby may have been over 45 years ago in 1970 when the Crusaders won the NCCC title in boys soccer in their first year in the league. (We’re still researching this but we think that is accurate).
In the school’s history, East Granby has been to the state championship game just five times. The boys soccer team won in 1970. The girls basketball team (2003), boys basketball team (2001), baseball (1990) and boys soccer team (1969) each finished second.
This year’s softball team gets a chance to play on. The Crusaders (20-1) dropped their first game of the season on Friday, a 4-3 loss to Suffield in the semifinals of the NCCC Tournament. “We had opportunities to score but we just got beat,” Ferrara said. East Granby trailed by three runs and cut the lead to one but couldn’t get any closer. “When you get beat, you just have to accept it,” he said.
The Crusaders aren’t packed with veterans. The starting lineup includes four juniors, four sophomores and a freshman.
Ferrara is upbeat about East Granby’s chances in the state tournament. The Crusaders won 16 games in the NCCC where nine of the 14 teams in the league qualified for the state tournament. East Granby is the No. 1 seed in Class and they open tournament play against No. 32 Sacred Heart of Waterbury (9-12) on Monday at home.
With a win on Monday, the Crusaders will play either Norwich Tech or Putnam from the Constitution State Conference on Tuesday in the second round. They could face No. 8 Immaculate-Danbury in the quarterfinals next Thursday.
Canton (13-7) is on East Granby’s side of the bracket and the two teams could meet in the semifinal should they get that far. Defending champion Thomaston (19-0) is the No. 2 seed and in the other bracket. East Granby could only meet the Bears in the final.
NCCC 2015 standings
Team NCCC Overall
x-East Granby 16-0 20-0
Granby 13-3 16-4
Ellington 13-3 14-5
Suffield 13-3 15-5
Canton 10-6 13-7
Coventry 9-7 11-9
Somers 7-9 8-12
Windsor Locks 6-10 7-13
SMSA 4-12 8-12
Avon 3-13 5-15
East Windsor 5-15
Bolton 2-14 3-15
x-won league championship
2015 NCCC Tournament
Suffield 4, East Granby 3
Granby 3, Ellington 2
Granby 26, Suffield 0 (5)