FAIRFIELD -- For the first two years of her career as the starting pitcher for the Stamford High School softball team, Christina Joaunou was able to take the mound without worry, knowing she had one of the top offensive teams in the FCIAC supporting her.
That might not change much this spring. After all, the ability to score runs in bunches has always been a trademark of teams coached by Tony Esposito.
But this year, with two freshmen among a host of newcomers to the starting lineup, there's no doubt Joaunou is the one the Black Knights will be leaning on the most.
Apparently, that's exactly the way the senior right-hander likes it.
Unfazed by the newfound weight of responsibility, Joaunou put together one of the finest performances of her career, shutting down a potent Fairfield Ludlowe offense during a 4-0 victory in the season-opener at blustery Sturges Park.
Ludlowe is expected to be one of the top teams in the FCIAC with seven seniors returning from a team that went 15-7 last year, including one of the top hitters in the state in senior third-baseman Brenna Martini.
But Joaunou made Ludlowe look ordinary, scattering six hits with eight strikeouts and no walks to collect the shutout. It was just the type of effort Esposito wanted to see from his new team leader.
"Christina came through for us, big time. She threw one heck of a game," Esposito said. "This was a big game because the ball's in her court now. She came through very nicely. Let's hope it's a sign of things to come."
The matchup was perfect for Joaunou, who relies on location and a great changeup to get outs -- just the type of pitcher Ludlowe struggles against.
"She went high and low. She had a really nice changeup, which is one of our weaknesses," Ludlowe coach Shari Paci said. "She really read our batters well, and I think that's something we're going to be working on."
Stamford, which went 16-4 with an appearance in the Class LL state semifinals last season, scored all the runs it would need in the first inning before Ludlowe junior Brigette Anderson settled into a groove.
Haley Lamotta reached on a one-out error and second-baseman Sarah Stabile followed with a single to left. Shortstop Kelly Dipietro drove in the first run with another single to left and first-baseman Brianna Arias made it 3-0 with a clutch two-out, two-run single to left.
"That was a great help," said Joaunou, who also had a nice drop pitch working well. "We were coming in with a new team with newbies at new postitions everywhere, and they really pulled their weight. I'm really proud of them."
Stamford added an insurance run in the top of the seventh on a bunt single by Nicole Pease, a sacrifice bunt by Arias and an infield error. Anderson allowed just two hits over the final six innings, finishing with four strikeouts and no walks.
Joaunou got herself out of a couple of jams, ending the first inning with a stikeout after allowing hits by Anna Rasmussen and Martini (2-for-3), then doing the same in the third with Gillian Kennedy on third base and again in the fourth after a two-out double by Katie DeCarlo (2-for-3).
But Joaunou was supported by solid defense, including stellar efforts by freshman Maddie Santora at third and sophomore Lauren O'Neill in center. Santora had five assists, including a couple of bunts where she had to field and throw quickly. O'Neill made two nice catches on balls that could have easily fallen for hits on such a windy day, including a diving grab in the second inning.
The Black Knights also thwarted Ludlowe's best chance to score, getting Brittany Romero in a rundown between third and home after two straight hits put runners on second and third.
"Everyone fielded their position today," Esposito said. "We had a freshman at third base stopping everything and making plays at first and Lauren in center. The defense was incredible."
Stamford 4, Ludlowe 0
STAMFORD 300 000 1--4 5 1
LUDLOWE 000 000 0--0 6 3
Batteries: S-- Christina Joaunou (W, 1-0) and Haley Lamotta; L--Brigette Anderson (L, 0-1) and Katie DeCarlo.