- FUN FEATURES
Cheshire Flames Make Connecticut History!
Cheshire Flames 14-U fast pitch softball didn’t bring expectations into the Independence Day Firecracker Tournament (June 30 to July 2) in Mechanicsburg, Pa. While the only team composed of girls from the same town, Cheshire surprised themselves by winning the Silver Bracket Championship.
“I think that was the turning point of our season. To go 6-3 against top competition, it gave us confidence,” recalled Head Coach Craig Odermatt. “We were an average team before traveling to Pennsylvania.”
Cheshire rode that success into a historic finish to the season. After going 4-0 in the Babe Ruth State Tournament (July 14-15) at Bartlem Recreation Area, Cheshire became the first Connecticut squad to win regionally on July 28-29 in Lynn, Mass.
“It is awesome to be the first team from Cheshire to win it,” reflected Victoria D’Amato.
“It felt really good,” stated Mackenzie Juodaitis. “We’ve been working hard all season. As an in-town team, we are all very close. It makes us special.”
The Flames (36-11) went 5-1 in the regional tournament, beating Kingston, Mass. twice (9-3, 9-6) for the championship. Victoria D’Amato and Juodaitis both pitched in the final.
“It started difficult. They got ahead of us in the final, but we came back and talked it out,” explained D’Amato.
“We had beat them once, so we knew we could come back and win again,” added Juodaitis.
Pitching was similarly key during the semifinals. D’Amato threw a 10-0 shutout of Arlington (Mass.).
“I love working with her (Juodaitis). We each have our strengths and weaknesses,” said D’Amato.
The day before, Cheshire gave up just one run in their first two wins over Pittsfield (14-1) and Lynn (17-0) from Massachusetts. They lost a nail-biter 5-4 to LL Fusion (N.H.), but bounced back in sweeping single-elimination play. Sabriya Chaudhry joined Juodaitis and D’Amato in pitching during pool play.
“It gave us confidence to get those first two victories. We were all hitting and making plays on defense,” explained Jill Pulek. “It was hard that we lost (once), but we realized that the game didn’t matter. We could still come back the next day and win the tournament.”
Pulek energized her team with a two-run home run during the state final, a 7-1 win over Newtown Hawks. Cheshire earlier beat the Hawks 7-0, out-scoring the opposition by a total of 43-4.
“We had never won a state tournament before, so it was a big accomplishment,” reflected Pulek. “We all worked hard on the field
The 10-U Flames (16-6) also swept four games to win states. Just like the older girls, they beat their final opponent twice in the tournament. Cheshire out-scored Stamford 11-9 and 12-6.
“It was really exciting because we’ve been trying to win it for three years,” stated Aliyah Catanzarita, who shares pitching with Lauren Card.
“It was cool because we did it in Cheshire. We know this field,” added Maya Galloza, the left fielder.
They came up one win short of joining the older girls as regional champions. Cheshire won their first four games in Stamford, twice beating Raynham (Mass.) 5-4, but in the final series, they lost twice to their rival (4-3, 3-0) and took runner-up.
“It felt great. I didn’t expect to be second place,” said Brianna Bavaro, the catcher. “It was amazing to get this huge trophy.”
Cheshire did sweep Monadock (N.H.) 3-2 and 8-4 in preliminary action.
“All the games we won were close. We got to the finals, but our bats just went silent,” explained Head Coach Michael Catanzarita. “If we play that team (Raynham) 10 times, we probably win half.”
According to the girls, the difference between the first two and last two games with Raynham was pitching.
“It was easier in the beginning because they saved their best pitcher,” stated Julia Gillotti, who played second base.
“We had the bases loaded twice in the title game, but couldn’t get the runs across the plate. That was the only game we were shut out in this year,” said Coach Catanzarita. “I’m very proud of the girls. They left everything on the field.”
After the title game, Aliyah Catanzarita was given her second game ball courtesy of Stamford, who were eliminated by Raynham. She pitched the first four innings before being relieved by Card.
“It was nice of them,” Aliyah Catanzarita.
Playing regionally wasn’t a goal at the start of the season. The coaches worked to put the girls in positions where they could succeed.
“I think the camaraderie amongst the girls made a huge difference,” reflected Coach Catanzarita. “They were open to being moved around and the staff was creative in finding the right spots. We won 10 of our last 12 games, so we were rolling by the end.”
“I was nervous because this was my first year playing with the Flames,” recalled Galloza.
“We just developed and got better,” stated Aliyah Catanzarita.
The regional finishes exemplify how quickly the Flames program, consisting of Cheshire Youth Softball alumni, has grown in three years. Before the name change, CYS All-Stars played in Babe Ruth competition.
“It is really nice,” said Odermatt, who coached the inaugural Flames at 10-U. “When we first started, I didn't think we would get to the level of Stamford, but the girls did it.”
Another 14-U team and two 12-U Flames ended the year in the Central Valley Fast Pitch League Tournament (July 27-29) at Wallingford’s Gaylord Fields. One of the 12-U teams went 4-1 in the state tournament on July 7-8, falling to Stamford 4-3 in the final at Hatter’s Park of Danbury.
“I think it means a lot to the program,” said Coach Catanzarita, of the 14-U team setting Connecticut history. “My girls aspire to be them one day. We hope they reach that goal.”
The 14- (below) and 10-U (bottom) are pictured below. Photos courtesy of Lisanne O'Reilly and Michael Catanzarita, respectively.