Freshman Gillian Birk, who had started most of Staples games this season, didn't allow Fairfield Warde any hits through seven innings Friday in an FCIAC softball game in Fairfield. But Birk's Mustangs' counterpart, Gabriella Natoli, was nearly as effective as Birk. Warde's sophomore pitcher had shut out the Wreckers on four hits.
So it was scoreless as extra innings began.
Natoli retired Staples 1-2-3 in the top of the eighth. Then the Mustangs strung together three straight hits -- after Birk had gotten the first Warde batter -- with Sarah Cotto's line drive single into center field driving in Michelle Treglia, who had broken up the no-hitter two at-bats prior. Warde won 1-0 to improve to 5-4 overall and 3-4 in the conference. Staples' records dropped to 4-4 and 3-4 in the FCIAC.
"If we get one hit to go our way, it's the difference in the game," said Staples coach Sara Holland, whose club put runners in scoring position three times against Natoli but failed to capitalize.
"They just got the one hit before we did."
Natoli gave up four hits -- three to sophomore Emily Lustbader -- and one walk and struck out one Wrecker, as the Mustangs played error-free behind her. Birk gave up singles to Treglia, Brianna West and Cotto -- all three into center field -- and four walks. She struck out three Mustangs. Staples made three errors, but none in a pivotal spot.
Even without the benefits of any hits, Warde had runners on base every inning, four times getting runners into scoring position before Birk stranded them. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Treglia reached third, moving up on a passed ball after her bunt was mishandled by the Wreckers and she got to second base on the play.
Then Birk bore down again and the defense tightened, as they had before.
"Our hitters made one adjustment when we into extra innings," Warde coach Gary Quiricone said. "And that was to be more patient for the pitch you can hit. We weren't hitting well. When we hit it hard, we hit it at them."
Once the no-hitter was gone, he said, there was a difference. "Confidence builds when there's one hit after another," Quiricone said.
Cotto, a sophomore, rated a grand slam that gave her team the lead last year during a Warde victory as the only other hit in her career approaching the magnitude of the game-winner against Staples. "I believe that we definitely could have hit her better than we did," Cotto said. "Brianna and I had big hits."
Cotto was impressed with Birk's location and her ability to throw strikes to the outside and inside parts of the plate.
Holland termed Birk's performance as wonderful.
"She was real solid. She was hitting her spots," Holland said. "Gillian showed excellent poise on the mound in pressure situations."
Birk, whose first career no-hitter came for a travel team in the fall, was humble in assessing her performance. "I thought I was OK," said Birk, who began pitching in fourth grade. "I need to work on my off-speed pitches. My (high) fastball was working well, and my defense was really good behind me."
Wreckers' fielders tracked down the few line drives that Birk gave up.
Fairfield Warde 1, Staples 0 (8)
STAPLES 000 000 00--0 4 3
FAIRFIELD WARDE 000 000 01--1 3 0
Records: Staples 4-4, 3-4 FCIAC; Fairfield Warde 5-4, 3-4 FCIAC. Batteries: S--Gillian Birk (L) and Nicola Shenk; FW--Gabriella Natoli (W) and Brianna West. Highlights: S--Birk allowed no hits in seven innings, with three strikeouts and four walks; Emily Lustbader went 3-for-3; FW--Michelle Treglia broke up the no-hitter; Sarah Cotto had the game-winning hit.