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Spartans survive scare

MERIDEN — The outs were running out on the Maloney softball team’s season.

The No. 8 Spartans were trailing No. 9 East Lyme 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning of a Class L second-round matchup at the Dunn Athletic Complex on Tuesday afternoon.

Maloney’s best player and base runner, Ariele Virgulto, had just been thrown out rounding third base, obeying Maloney coach Scott Aresco’s orders to “go.”

East Lyme shortstop Kaylie Crosby, retrieving an errant throw, got to the ball quicker than Aresco had thought, and then Virgulto fell and was tagged out for the second out of the sixth.

Not. Looking. Good.

“I made a big mistake; I thought I cost the girls the season,” Aresco said. “But they had my back and they stepped up.”

Indeed, instead of crumbling after Virgulto’s out at third, the Spartans (18-4) ripped off three consecutive RBI singles before the sixth inning was through to earn a thrilling 3-1 victory and advance to play at No. 1 Fitch (21-0) in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

“Those were rockets,” Aresco said of the decisive hits. “We knew we were capable of doing that. We just had to wait.”

After Virgulto was thrown out, the Spartans still had Saimara Cantres in scoring position at second base with No. 3 hitter Chelsea Schott coming to the dish with two outs. Schott tied the game with a booming double to the left-center field fence.

“I just went up there like it was a normal at-bat,” Schott said. “I cleared my head. I tried to do my best and even up the score.”

That she did.

Then Brenna Chichester ran for Schott and scored on a RBI single by Lindsey Massicotte that put the Spartans up 2-1.

Massicotte, in turn, stole second and scored on a Gabby Graham double to left that went well over the outfielder’s head for an insurance run.

“We hadn’t gone that far into a game without scoring, so the pressure was on. We could feel it,” Massicotte said. “The win gives us more confidence than we had before going into the rest of the tournament, knowing we could come back.”

In the top of the seventh, Paige Uliase calmly retired the bottom of the East Lyme order, one, two, three and the Spartans celebration was on. Aresco and the bench players bolted out of the dugout to greet the players on the field after a thrilling win.

Earlier, it seemed that celebration would belong to the visitors. East Lyme hurler Erica Hill had kept the Spartans in check for the first five frames. The senior yielded just two hits — a single by Schott (2-for-3) in the first and a Megan Guest base knock in the fifth — before Maloney’s rally in the sixth.

Hill nearly avoided the sixth-inning rally all together. After a flyout, Virgulto reached on a bunt single and stole second base. She was about to take off for third when Cantres hit a routine pop up to the right side of the infield.

East Lyme’s second baseman was in position to catch the ball and double Virgulto off of second, but she moved toward the base too early and the ball popped out of her glove.

Cantres and Virgulto were safe, and the decisive Maloney rally continued.

“That was a close play,” Virgulto said. “I was going to be stealing third, so I was extra far off the bag. I had to run back. I saw it drop and I was relieved.”

When Virgulto was later thrown out at third, it looked grim for the home team.

“I thought the shortstop was not going to get there,” Aresco said. “She made a nice play from it going into left field. I saw the ball go by third base and I thought it was going into left field. I yelled ‘go’ and Ariele did what I said. She fell and it happens.”

The Vikings scored their lone run of the game in the second inning without a hit thanks to three consecutive Maloney miscues.

Megan Lanier and Carly Puckett reach on errors, giving East Lyme (16-5) second and third with no outs. Leadoff hitter Kaylie Crosby lined one back to Uliase for the first out and the sophomore hurler tried to double off Lanier at third, but the throw was wild and the first run of the game scored.

Uliase calmly retired the next two batters to limit the damage.

Uliase scattered four hits in the victory. She allowed the unearned run and walked none.

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