Never-say-quit Fairfielder's advance

There was no question Maddie Russell wanted to pitch when Fairfield Little League met Mystic with the state softball title on the line at Sacred Heart University on Sunday.

What had to be determined was whether the right-hander was physically able to step into the circle.

“I can’t think of a combination of words to express my feelings of appreciation… How she gutted it out,” Fairfield manager Jarry Rasmussen said of Russell, who pitched all seven innings in Fairfield’s 7-6 extra-inning victory.

Russell had injured her ankle sliding into second base in the third inning and had to be carried from the field during Fairfield’s 7-4 win in the first game of the best-of-three series to decide the championship on Saturday.

 

“This morning I really couldn’t walk,” Russell said. “It got better toward the end of the game. It started to loosen up.”

Megan Belinsky singled with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, stole two bases, and scored the winning run on a wild pitch, as Fairfield repeated as state champions.

It will meet Vermont’s state champion at 8:15 on Friday night in the first round of the New England regional tournament in Bristol.

Getting to the return engagement wasn’t easy.

“We keep it to two or three [runs] we feel like we can weather the storm,” Jarry Rasmussen said. “Four is different. We were a little nervous in that first inning.”

Four singles and a walk helped Mystic to a 4-0 lead before Fairfield shortstop Brittany Romero had a pair of assists to curtail the rally.

Mystic pitcher Sophie Nelson retired the first batter in the bottom of the inning, before a throwing error on Mary Rose Finnegan’s grounder opened the door for the locals.

Anna Rasmussen followed with an RBI double, and Russell and Kayla O’Donnell had consecutive run-scoring singles to make it a one-run game.

Another Mystic error tied the score.

“[The first inning] did get me nervous,” Russell said. “I was confident that my team would get the runs back.”

Fairfield took the lead with a two-run rally in the second.

Romero singled with one out and stole second, where Finnegan knocked her in with a base hit to left field. Russell plated Finnegan with a two-out single to left, and Fairfield had a 6-4 lead.

Mystic, which fell to Fairfield for the second straight season in the title game, pulled a run back in the third before Russell enticed a pair of comebackers to the circle to strand a runner in scoring position.

Fairfield loaded the bases in the home third on walks to Shannon McCartney and Romero around a Belinsky single, but Mystic left the bags full. Finnegan saved a run from scoring in a painful way when she blocked a low throw to third with her face mask in the top of the fourth.

Natalie Labasi had singled with one out. She advanced to third after forcing a pair of off-line throws while running the bases. Finnegan stayed in the game after a brief recovery period, and Romero gloved a hard liner and drifted into shallow left field to catch a pop up to end the inning.

Mystic turned a double play to get out of trouble in the fourth, and Fairfield’s Amanda Schramm singled to no avail in the fifth.

Mystic had three outs to tie the game in the sixth and Casey Woods used up a box of softballs to get the job done.

With Suzanna Mewha on third and two outs, Woods took the count to 3-2 and on the 11th pitch of the at bat singled to left field to make it 6-6.

“We were one strike away,” Jarry Rasmussen said. “That young lady had a great at-bat…Give her all the credit.”

Russell knew she had to stand tall.

“I knew I still had to get the last out [of the inning],” she said. “I couldn’t fall apart there.”

Nelson pitched a perfect sixth and Fairfield’s O’Donnell made a spectacular catch in right-center field to take away an extra-base hit away from Labasi to end the frame.

Belinsky singled to right with two out in the bottom of the seventh, stole second, and on a walk to Abrianna Natoli, stole third. With an 0-2 count on Schramm, Belinsky broke off third quickly on a wild pitch and scored the winning run.

‘They got a taste of it last year… We called it Camp Bristol and we’ll do that again,” said Jarry Rasmussen, who is assisted by Dave McCartney, Doug Romero and Ed Finnegan. “To be 12 or 13 and get to meet players from all over and have pizza or ice cream parties at 10 o’clock is great.

“[As coaches] we complement each other, we push each other. We’ve been together [with four title-winning All-Star teams] and appreciate each group, each year at each level.”

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