June 26, 2014 11:08PM
By Ken Lipshez
MERIDEN — As Maloney softball coach Scott Aresco tried to come to grips with the quarterfinal loss to Fitch in Groton on June 6 that marked the end of the 2014 season, another reality quickly came over him like a shroud of death.
He had written down the name Ariele Virgulto on a high school lineup card for the final time.
Sure, her statistics elicit double-takes. How can they possibly be right? Some of them get so incredibly close to perfect in a sport that can never be.
But statistics don’t make a coach-player relationship. Alone they can bring significant honors, but not Virgulto’s most recent one.
The Spartans’ consummate shortstop and leadoff hitter became the very first Meriden player and only the sixth from Connecticut to be named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Team in the 20 years such recognition has been given.
“It’s crazy,” Virgulto said Thursday. “I can’t believe it. I had no idea going into the season, during the season or even at the end that this would be possible.
“I think about the people down south that play year round. They’re just crazy good. I just thought it was for players that are intimidating. I don’t feel like I am. Usually, people who intimidate are mean and serious. I just have fun with it.”
Virgulto was named to the third team. The only other state player to gain a spot this season was Masuk pitcher Tatum Buckley, who was selected to the second squad. It marked the first time in five seasons a state player was so recognized, dating back to Masuk pitcher Rachele Fico, who went on to become an NCAA All-American at Louisiana State.
“Tatum got the most votes for All-State and Ariele got the second most,” Aresco said. “It’s only deserving those two were mentioned as [NFCA All-East Regional players]. They were by far the best in the state.
“I’m happy for Ariele; I’m happy for her family. I sure would like an opportunity to see the caliber of players that are considered better than her.”
Virgulto batted .667 (52-for-78) this year and reached base on 70 percent of her plate appearances. She stole 56 bases in 57 attempts and scored 45 runs.
Over four seasons, she played in 76 games, batted .525, scored 103 runs, went 101-for-103 in stolen base attempts and struck out 11 times in 265 plate appearances.
She exhibits a combination of innate gifts that bless so few. She leaves a trail of dust when she blazes around the basepaths, but just as importantly has the sixth sense to know when to go.
She has the knack for the dramatic, dropping down bunts, making diving stops and throwing out runners with her powerful arm when the task seems impossible.
And the glue that holds the total package together is her humble, team-first nature, a respect for the game and everyone in it, and an upbeat personality.
“There are players that are really, really good, know it and don’t work hard to get better,” Aresco said. “Ariele is really, really good and worked hard to get better every day. That’s what I’ll miss most. You miss players that are really good, but I’ll miss her work ethic.
“There wasn’t a day she didn’t dive after a ball or take a day off. She would come sick to practice. She has so much energy and is so much fun to be around. It’s been an absolute pleasure to coach her.
“I’ll miss the enjoyment of coaching her more than the wins. I would take 100 people with her personality, go 0-20 and be extremely happy, but if I had two of her, I’d be undefeated.”
Virgulto, whose sister Brittany plays at Western Connecticut, plans to walk on at UConn. The Husky program is in a state of transformation with the retirement of Karen Mullins after 31 seasons. Virgulto has communicated with first-year assistant Megan Brown.
She is playing travel ball this summer with the Connecticut Tigers and definitely wants to continue playing.
“I’ve gone to a couple of [Brittany’s] games, usually at tournament time. They all seem like they’re having fun and enjoy playing at a high level, and it’s definitely appealing,” Ariele said. “I’d want to play at a high level just like that.”
She plans on studying something in the science or math field, but is going in undecided.
The only other player from the area to receive NFCA All-America status was Lyman Hall’s Jen Piazza in 2000.