Greenwich High softball has a season to remember

Greenwich High School right fielder Dominique Gambino tries to make the play during a recent game at the GHS softball field. — John Ferris Robben photo

Greenwich High School right fielder Dominique Gambino tries to make the play during a recent game at the GHS softball field. — John Ferris Robben photo

What a difference a few years makes for the Greenwich High School softball team.

Back in 2011, head coach Mary Beth Fratello was thrilled to see her team finally get back to the state tournament, even if they fell to Danbury in the opening round. A year later, Big Red won its first playoff game in over a decade and the GHS coach couldn’t be happier.

This spring, GHS advanced to the conference semis and the class LL quarters, something that hasn’t been done at the school for quite awhile.

But still something was different in the Cardinals. Something changed.

Gone are the days where Fratello and her softball team are just happy to be in the tournament. With the amount of improvement and determination they’ve shown throughout this season, it was obvious that Greenwich wanted to win the thing.

“We are going to have to continue improving,” Fratello said. “We can’t just say that it’s one of the best teams that we’ve had and then tail off. We have to come back strong, keep our skills up and keep the confidence up. Now people are going to take us much more seriously. When they see Greenwich, they know it’s not going to be an easy game. They are going to have to work hard to beat us.”

However, that doesn’t mean Greenwich isn’t pleased with its season. Couldn’t be further from the truth.
This spring, GHS had a season to remember. The Lady Cardinals took a 17-3 regular season record and made it to the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference semifinals before falling to Westhill. In the state tournament, Greenwich upended West Haven and exacted revenge on Westhill before falling to South Windsor in the class LL quarters.

“It was a lot of fun coaching this team,” Fratello said. “When you win, it makes it a lot better. But seriously, it was a lot of fun and the kids were great. They were a great group and our senior leadership was outstanding. The eight seniors on the team really helped the younger kids mature into top players for us.”

Fratello said that getting the team to where they were at the end of the season was because of the stellar way senior captains Erin Ferguson and Rebecca Decarlo led the team.

“Their leadership was crucial to us getting so far this season,” Fratello said. “They always gave 100% during practices and go above and beyond. They stay late after practices to work on different things and during practices they always want to work on improving themselves as well as the team. They are workhorses. They aren’t there just to have fun. They want to win and bring a high intensity every time they step on the field.”

While the captains were solid, so were the six other seniors that helped shape Big Red into a title contender. In addition to Decarlo and Ferguson, seniors Jen Ambrogio, Madison Burhans, Kaitlyn Gowans, Bailey Robben, Jessie Schelz and Erin White all came up huge, both on and off the field.

“They meant everything to this team,” Fratello said. “Their leadership was outstanding and they were great role models. Their dedication to the program was something that was key to this team’s success. They’ve been playing together since they were young.”

For Big Red, the offense was the team’s key strength. Throughout the regular season, it was common to see Greenwich with five or more runs during a game. In fact, in 20 regular season contests, the Cards scored five or more runs 15 times. They crushed Wilton 12-7 and 12-2, outslugged Fairfield Warde 17-16, upended Staples 14-5, and blasted Trumbull 12-6.

When it came to power, the captains Decarlo and Ferguson paced the team. However, Ambrogio was great running out bunts, while Burhans always seemed to find the hole in other team’s defenses.

“Our offense really knew how to bring in runs,” Fratello said. “Whether it was with the long ball or manufacturing runs, we were able to score quite a bit. We did a little bit of everything. We had power when we needed it, but we were able to bunt, steal and find the holes in the field. There were a couple of games where we didn’t hit, like against St. Joe’s and Darien, but overall I think our offense was really good. We were really aggressive this year.”

On the mound Schelz was one cool customer throughout the season. Although she didn’t see a lot of playing time her first year with the Cards last year, Schelz was able to step in this season and was highly successful.

A huge help for Schelz was that the pressure wasn’t on her too much. With such a solid defense behind her, Schelz didn’t have to strike out 21 batters every game. Knowing Greenwich was able to back her up was a huge lift off the shoulders.

“She had a great year,” Fratello said. “She didn’t overpower people, but she was able to move the ball all around. Jessie did a great job keeping batters off-balance. She had a lot of movement on her pitches. Last year she came into the varsity program and didn’t get a lot of starts, but this year was her year to shine and she did exactly that. Our defense did a great job backing her up.”

Overall, one of the biggest improvements for GHS this season was their ability to handle pressure.

“I kept on telling the girls that the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is the team that’s going to win,” Fratello said. “The defense was really good this year. Greenwich is known for having that one bad inning and we didn’t have that this year. When Jessie put the ball in play, the defense was there to make the play. We were able to win those big games and also those close games.”

Although it’s only the end of June, Fratello can’t wait to get next year’s season underway. While the team will have a new look, Fratello believes that another standout season is a strong possibility.

“We need to continue to play together and improve on the small ball, since I think we are going to do that a lot more next year,” Fratello said. “The returners have their work cut out for them, but what’s so good about them is that they know our system and will be playing softball over the summer. They should be able to move nicely into the slots left behind by the seniors. They have to carry out the tradition that the seniors that graduated this year left.”

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