NORTH STONINGTON — Fresh off its best regular season in at least 30 years, the Wheeler High softball team has made believers out of many.
But apparently not everyone. Right dab in the middle of the New Haven Register’s “Gametime CT” scholastic preview of the CIAC softball tournament was an upset special of No. 27 seed Trinity Catholic knocking off No. 6 Wheeler in the first round.
The Lions realize that CIAC seedings and records don’t necessarily give a true indication of a team’s strength. Just two years ago, the No. 17 Lions blitzed No. 1 Cheney Tech 18-0 in the Class S second round.
Apparently, the “Gametime CT” crew smelled an upset with Trinity Catholic, playing out of the large-school Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference, making a two-plus hour trip from Stamford with its 9-11 record to knock off the 14-4 Lions of the ECC-Small.
“I heard about the prediction, which is why I don’t read papers anymore,” Trinity Catholic coach Tom Kriz said. “Honestly, we weren’t sure what to expect, but we felt pretty good about the way we were playing.”
Wheeler enhanced the reputation of itself and the ECC-Small Monday with a 4-0 victory over the FCIAC-Crusaders behind the six-hit, nine-strikeout pitching of Jenn Paride.
The Lions (15-5), who host No. 11 Kolbe Cathedral (14-7) today at 4 p.m., broke open a 1-0 game with three runs in the sixth inning. Kolbe defeated No. 22 Canton 4-3 in its first-round game on Monday.
“This is a quality win,” Wheeler coach Joe Cawley said. “I’m aware that Trinity plays a number of excellent teams, but we faced our share of powerhouse teams such as Fitch and East Lyme plus a tough nonleague game with Morgan and the two divisional showdowns with St. Bernard.
“When we got the pairings, we knew we wouldn’t be playing a tech school today, but this is the type of game I was looking for. It doesn’t do us any good to walk over a team. Today, we were forced to face some tough situations.”
Paride faced one early bout with adversity when Trinity Catholic loaded the bases with one out in the third inning on three consecutive infield hits. But the junior right-hander struck out the No. 4 batter Kelly Sheridan on a changeup and forced an infield grounder to get out of the inning with no runs.
Wheeler answered in its half of the third. With one out, Mirandah Ackley walked, stole second and scored on ninth-batter Kaite Morgan’s well-placed double to left center.
“The bottom of the order came through for us,” Cawley said. “It’s huge to get the first run in what you expect to be a tight game.”
The Lions struggled a bit offensively against the curveballs and changeups of Crusader pitcher Amy Hurd. The Lions had runners on second and third with one out in the fourth on Kylie Baker’s double and Sam Muller’s single but could not score. Raven Houck doubled and was thrown out at third base to end the fifth inning.
“She had us out front and off balance,” Paride said. “We weren’t sure what to expect from a team we’ve never heard of, but it did get our attention that they had beaten Morgan, 5-4, just three days after Morgan beat us (5-0 in the season opener April 9).”
Wheeler took the pressure off in the sixth with three runs.
Jess Morgan singled and scored on Paride’s double to right center. Muller walked and Micaela Bergel singled home a run with a bloop single to right. An infield error on Maddie Porter’s grounder plated two more runs.
Crusader leadoff batter Leah Zarrilli (3 for 4) reached on an infield hit in the seventh, but Paride retired the visitors quietly in the seventh.
Paride, who walked only one, only allowed three balls hit out of the infield as her fastball was overpowering and she appeared stronger than last week when she was getting over the flu.
Trinity Catholic now has been shut out seven times.
“The FCIAC has a couple of outstanding pitchers and a few other good ones that are on (Paride’s level),” Kriz said. “There’s no issue, she could pitch on most teams in our league. She kept our batters at bay.”