STAMFORD — Today was Flashback Monday for Stamford softball, a throwback to two decades ago, when the city’s three FCIAC teams won six straight conference titles, the best stretch in the illustrious history of the Stamford High, Westhill and Trinity Catholic programs.
Stamford and Westhill met this afternoon tied with the league’s best records. The No. 1 seed in the FCIAC Tournament was at stake, and for 7 1/2 innings the Vikings’ Edyliese Aquino and the Black Knights’ Sara Staley were unyielding, neither allowing a run.
Finally, in the bottom of the eighth, Westhill, held to five hits at that point, got consecutive singles, a walk to load the bases and then a sacrifice fly to rightfield by Maddy Cortell that proved the difference in a 1-0 decision.
The Vikings, about an hour after their baseball team secured the top playoff seed, earned themselves the same distinction.
“We were looking to be .500 after our scrimmages, but this team is just unbelievable where they’ve come from,” Westhill coach Tom Pia said. “They don’t give up. They don’t mind being down or anything else. Good for them. They made all the plays.”
Pia may have slightly exaggerated the preseason expectations, but in a year when there are a number of legitimate championship contenders, the Vikings’ regular-season title is hardly an insignificant accomplishment.
It has been eight years since a Stamford team won the FCIAC title, the longest stretch since the first one was awarded in 1976. That drought could end next week; Stamford will be either the second or third seed in the playoffs, depending on how Darien fares against Norwalk.
Both coaches said the game roused pleasant memories.
“It’s from the early 2000s and late 1990s,” Pia said. “That’s how it was. Nobody made a mistake to lose the game, somebody just won a game. It was just an excellent game. They played an excellent game, Sara pitched her (butt) off, they’re a class program and we’re coming around. We get better every week.”
Westhill is 16-2 over all and 14-1 in the league.
The Black Knights (17-2, 13-2) for now still have the best overall record in the conference.
“A few flashbacks here and there,” Stamford coach Tony Esposito said when asked about similarities between today’s game and the era when the city dominated the sport. “The pitchers did a great job. Not a lot of hitting but just enough and Westhill got the win. Both teams played great defense. I’m very proud of our girls and tip of the hat to Westhill.”
With one out in the eighth, Kiara Ramon and Jordan Benzaken, two of the seniors honored in a pregame ceremony before their final regular season contest at home, hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners. After Aquino walked, Cortell got a ball far enough into the outfield to score the day’s only run.
The Black Knights managed just three hits and threatened in the fifth inning, when they put two runners on third base. One got tagged out in a rundown on an unsuccessful squeeze and the other was stranded after one of Aquino’s three strikeouts.
Each pitcher showed strong resolve; the teams combined to strand just 10 runners.
“It was a really good feeling,” said Aquino, who has been playing with a groin pull and a blister on her pitching hand, which she said doesn’t bother her during games. “It’s great to play games like this. We’re both even teams, it could have gone either way but we came through.”
Ramon and Benzaken were the only players with two hits.
“This is the way it is,” Esposito said. “Win or lose, put it behind you and get ready for the playoffs.”