TRUMBULL — Given the responsibility she has been handed this season, there was little reason to believe Trumbull pitcher Emily Gell was going to waver in the bottom of the sixth inning today against St. Joseph.
The Cadets had just rallied to score twice — the second time when Gell hit a batter with the bases loaded — to draw within a run. Gell maintained a steely face as she induced Kayla Giacobbe, perhaps the Cadets’ most dangerous hitter, to fly out to rightfield.
Gell overcame a one-out single in the seventh and then did not allow the ball to leave the infield to close out the Eagles’ 5-4 win in a game between the last remaining unbeaten teams in conference play.
“We just had to stay calm and having my defense behind me, I trust them like completely 100 percent,” Gell said. “All I have to do is let them hit the ball and my defense will make my job easier and a lot more relaxing.”
The Eagles (12-1, 9-0 FCIAC) were held to six hits, but won the battle of mistakes: they committed just one error while the Cadets uncharacteristically made four.
“We’re a young team,” Trumbull coach Jacqui Sheftz said. “We’re young at key positions and that playoff-type atmosphere, making the heart pound in the chest a little bit, there’s nothing wrong with that. We were able to persevere and I’m really proud of how they hung in there.”
No one demonstrated that resolve more than Gell, who has already been primed for such situations since the graduation of Ally Szabo.
“That was a big game for her,” Sheftz said. “She’s a sophomore taking over for someone who won a state championship on that mound. There’s a lot of pressure put on Em by herself, not us, and she was able to overcome that today and throw a pretty good ballgame for us. She just has to let her defense play behind her and she’ll be successful.”
Gell is also batting in the cleanup spot. She has remained steadfast, though the way she volleys all questions about herself, she may be better suited for the school’s tennis team.
“It’s all my teammates,” Gell said. “I know they support me. We all love each other and trust each other. We all have to step up in certain ways.”
In a season where consistency remains a coveted commodity for almost every other team, it was easy to view today’s game as a preview of the FCIAC final later this month.
Fairfield Ludlowe and Norwalk, among others, may offer a dissenting view. The Cadets (10-3, 8-1) will have to be sharper to regain the league title they won straight three straight times before the run was ended last year.
“I said if you’re going to make that many mistakes defensively you’re not going to be a championship team,” Babineau said. “And that’s the problem today. We made silly mistakes defensively. The hits are going to come, you’re going to capitalize when you can but we just made too many mistakes.”
The Cadets took a 1-0 lead three batters in on the first of Giacobbe’s two hits. Trumbull went ahead an inning later on Eva Dunn’s RBI single and a fielder’s choice.
Maddy Fitzgerald drove in the tying run for the Cadets with a double in the third, but the Eagles regained the lead in the bottom of the inning and extended it with two runs in the fourth. Maggie Coffin and Alexa Adinolfi each had RBIs.
The score stayed that way until the sixth, as Gell battled the Cadets’ Catherine Connell, who was deserving of a better fate.
“Both pitchers pitched well and that’s what it boiled down to,” Babineau said. “One mistake is going to cost you and we had unfortunately a couple of mistakes. We gave them too many.”
The last time these teams met, in the FCIAC quarterfinal game as the fourth and fifth seeds, the Cadets won 11-0. There was no foreshadowing what would come next for the Eagles, who rebounded for a run that ended in their first state title.
One of their departing gifts was a target on the back of a team that relies on a number of underclassmen. Gell’s catcher, Cassi Barbato, is a freshman.
So far they have all delivered.
Every game’s a big game for Trumbull softball coming off the season that we did last year,” Sheftz said. “There is that pressure but this is a new team, it’s a new season. We’re just taking one game at a time and I’m really proud of how they persevered today and hung in there.
“I thought our execution was pretty point-on today, being able to move runners, put runners in scoring position to come up with those big hits. I’m proud of our execution offensively.”
Sheftz said she downplayed storylines like the teams’ rivalry, history and location atop the standings.
“We just looked at it as it was just another game on our schedule,” she said. “We’re looking to win as many games in the FCIAC as possible to put us in the best position possible for the postseason.”