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Spartans in a familiar place

MERIDEN — Deep runs in the state tournament are not unfamiliar to Scott Aresco and his Maloney softball team.

The No. 8 Spartans (18-4) travel to No. 1 Fitch (23-1) this afternoon for a Class L quarterfinal matchup at 4 p.m. This is the eighth year in a row that Maloney has reached at least that round.

The last two springs, the Spartans advanced to the semifinals. They are still looking for their first state title game appearance.

Perhaps this will be the year. Despite going against the top seed today, Aresco is confident his team will not be intimidated.

“I got the chance to see them play Norwich Free Academy in the ECC final,” Aresco said, referring to an 8-4 game that was Fitch’s lone loss the season. “They are similar to Berlin, Bristol Central and Bristol Eastern.”

Those are three of Maloney’s biggest CCC South rivals, teams which the Spartans had some success against this year.

Maloney heads down to Groton ready to deploy its trademark small-ball assault. Senior shortstop and leadoff hitter Ariele Virgulto is the catalyst. She has been hitting just under .700 all season and has been nearly impossible to throw out on the bases. She stands at 99 thefts for her career.

“It’s been a pleasure to coach her,” Aresco said. “That’s 99 extra bases that she gets for us. That’s a lot, and that leads to a lot of runs.”

And yet Tuesday’s victory over East Lyme was triggering by an absolute rarity: Virgulto getting thrown out on the base paths.

Maloney was trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth. She had just stolen third base and the throw had gotten away into shallow left field.

Aresco, coaching at third, thinking the throw was more errant than it actually was, sent Virgulto home. She slipped, fell and was tagged for the second out of the inning.

Typically, that would have been devastating for the Spartans. Ironically, it led to a successful shift in strategy.

If Virgulto had remained safely at third, the Spartans would have had runners at second and third with one out. Aresco said he would have had Chelsea Schott squeeze Virgulto home to tie the game at 1-1 and would have also squeezed Lindsey Massicotte to go up 2-1.

But with two outs, Aresco abandoned small ball and let Schott swing away. The No. 3 batter launched a RBI double to the fence to tie the game.

Massicotte, the cleanup hitter, put Maloney on top for good with a RBI single. Gabby Graham capped the rally with a booming RBI double to give the Spartans the final 3-1 advantage.

“I got lucky,” Aresco said. “I was fortunate the girls swung the bats and made things happen. That was a huge win.”

The Spartans hope to continue their roll against Fitch pitcher Caroline Taber, who is only a sophomore.

The Spartans counter with a sophomore hurler of their own in Paige Uliase. Though a rookie, the right-hander has been solid, throwing every inning this season for the Spartans. She has pitched to a 1.73 ERA and has totaled seven shutouts.

“She’s young, but confident,” Aresco said. “We expect another good performance from Paige. We will all be ready to go.”

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