STAMFORD — When Westhill’s Adriana Gambino came up to bat in the eighth inning on Friday, a huge gap on the right side of the Stamford infield due to a shift, the left-handed hitter’s initial thought was to buck convention.
“First I was thinking just hit it hard the way they are playing me, and then I said turn on it,” Gambino said. “Even if it was an outside pitch I was going to try and pull it.”
Gambino did just that, her fourth hit of the day, coming after Edyliese Aquino had homered earlier in the inning, driving in a run and giving the Vikings a 6-4 lead.
It also proved to be the game-winning hit in a 6-5 victory after the Black Knights scored a run in the bottom of the inning.
Gambino, normally a closer, stranded the tying run on second base with a strikeout to get the win after throwing the final five innings.
“I like it, just come in one inning or a couple of innings and shut them down, but this was a little tougher,” Gambino said. “I haven’t thrown that many innings in a while.”
Gambino also drove in three runs as the Vikings (9-2, 8-1 FCIAC) remained a half game behind St. Joseph for the best record in the league and two games ahead of the next closest team. They play the Cadets on Monday.
“Either team could have won the game three or four different times and just didn’t do it,” Westhill coach Tom Pia said. “I think some of it is both teams are growing. They are trying to get better every week, we are trying to get better every week. We will see what happens.”
Westhill took advantage of a two-out error and scored twice in the second inning. Stamford loaded the bases with no outs in the third, aided by an error, and tied the game, though Gambino replaced Aquino and pitched out of trouble.
There were three lead changes the rest of the way.
Gambino, who had her fingerprints on every big play, also homered.
Stamford (5-6, 5-4), which has struggled with consistency as it tries to move up and again play a prominent role in the playoff race, repeatedly battled from behind. Maddy Santora’s two-run homer in the fifth gave the Black Knights a 4-3 lead.
Diana Magarian finished with two hits, including a double in the eighth that brought Stamford within a run.
“I give my kids all the credit, they fought like hell,” Stamford coach Tony Esposito said. “It was a great city game.”
Stamford had been pitching Gambino outside and she had been hitting the other way, the reason Esposito said he opted for the shift.
“We were working her wide and everything she hit was on the ground,” Esposito said. “That’s the last time I do that again.”
Pia, who admitted he first was going to pinch hit for Aquino in the eighth before seeing her wearing a helmet and determined look, praised Gambino’s decisive at-bat.
“It was a real good piece of hitting,” Pia said. “She took a pitch on the outside part of the plate and she was able to pull it. That was huge.”
Now the Vikings get the challenge of facing St. Joseph and Gambino will go against her future roommate next year at Manhattan, Cadets pitcher Nicole Williams.
“I’m excited,” Gambino said. “It’s going to be fun.”