The softball team solidified its position atop the North Central Connecticut Conference with a gritty 2-0 victory over in Suffield on Thursday afternoon.
The game featured the Bears’ three major strengths - terrific pitching, rock solid defense and timely hitting - as Granby Memorial improved to 11-0.
Bears pitcher Neve Stearns overcame an uncharacteristic bout of wildness - she issued three walks - to notch her third shutout of the year by yielding just two hits while striking out seven.
“They have some strong hitters, so we were going to play the corners [of the plate],” Granby Memorial head coach Vicki Malone said. “We took a chance with that. I wasn’t going to put a fastball over the plate for the third, fourth and fifth batters on that team.”
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Stearns also benefitted from some stellar defense.
“The defense, it wins games,” Malone said.
The biggest play, which was also the game’s wildest, came in the bottom of the sixth, with Granby Memorial clinging to a slim 1-0 lead.
Suffield’s Katelynn Corr hit a leadoff double to left and made a wide turn around second base. Corr’s turn toward third drew the throw behind her into second base, but the ball got through and rolled all the way past first base to the fence. Corr advanced to third and was waved home by Suffield head coach Johanne Presser, who was also coaching third base.
Granby Memorial right fielder Erin Walsh, alertly backing up the play, picked up the ball and fired home to catcher Samantha Groskritz, who ran down Corr for the first out of the inning.
“I sent the kid home because I thought the ball got by far enough past first base,” Presser said. “That was on me. I’m taking responsibility for that. She’s one of our speediest runners. It looked to me that the ball was well past the first baseman, so I sent her. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t.”
Malone, for her part, acknowledged that Granby Memorial got a break on that play.
“I think she took a chance by sending her,” Malone said. “Erin was in the right place with a nice throw home.”
In the bottom of the first, after Stearns walked Suffield leadoff batter Lexi Pallotti, Granby Memorial second baseman Morgan Malone turned a tagout, throw-out double play on the next batter to erase the threat.
In the bottom of the third, Stearns gave up a leadoff double to Meg Maliga, only to come back and strike out the next three batters.
Granby Memorial’s slick fielding shortstop Ellie Bourque was the game’s offensive star, driving in both runs with two-out singles in the second and seventh, respectively. Bourque knocked in Amy Bilodeau in the seventh after Bilodeau tripled with two outs.
“Two outs, no one on and we score a run? That’s huge. Amy got a good rip on that ball and Ellie had a great game for us, she’s just a true gamer,” Malone said. “She’s phenomenal.”
Maliga, Suffield’s pitcher, was sharp otherwise, scattering five hits over seven innings. At one point she retired 15 consecutive Granby Memorial batters.
“I feel bad for her because she pitched a great game and we just couldn’t back her up offensively this time,” Presser said. “Granby’s a good team. They’re tough on defense. They're always one of the premier teams in our conference. They have been for longer than five years.”
The loss dropped Suffield to 6-2, while putting Granby Memorial firmly in the driver’s seat for the conference regular season title. Still, Malone wasn’t about to start celebrating just yet.
“We haven’t won anything yet,” Malone said. “The target on our back is getting bigger. We’re going to embrace it and take it one at a time.”