It's hard to believe, when one thinks back to the start of the 2011 season, that pitcher was a question mark for the Fairfield Warde softball team.

But, it would not have been unfair to make that claim on April 1.

Three-year starter Gina Treglia had graduated, and Mustangs' coach Gary Quiricone deemed junior Heather Vanderheyden as Treglia's successor. Vanderheyden had seen time in relief, and in spot starts over her first two years on varsity, but was never thrown into the spotlight as she was this year.

And even though Warde's season fell two wins short of a state championship for the second straight year, with a 10-2 loss to Conard on Tuesday night in Stratford, it was the diminutive starting pitcher who had a significant hand in getting the Mustangs to that point.

"She had a phenomenal year," Warde coach Gary Quiricone said of Vanderheyden. "She held us in most of the games."

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Vanderheyden went 13-9 in her first full season as a starting pitcher. She pitched in pressure situations, beating Ludlowe twice, including once in the state playoffs. Vanderheyden finished with a 3-1 record in states and allowed only seven runs in her three wins in the Class LL tournament.

"She did a great job of keeping the FCIAC teams and teams we played in states off balance," Quiricone said

The Mustangs' pitcher also did damage with the bat. Vanderheyden had two of the Mustangs' four hits in their loss on Tuesday night. Her courtesy runner, Julia Palmieri, scored both of Warde's runs.

"She's one of our best hitters, that's why we bat her in the No. 3 spot," Quiricone said. "She got our rally going."

Vanderheyden will undoubtedly have to lead Warde in 2012 too. The Mustangs have five graduating, including four-year starter, and two-time all FCIAC shortstop Stacey Dileo and three-year starters Summer Anderson, Alyssa Borowy and Kaitlyn McCartney.

"The five seniors that are leaving us have had great leadership and great skill," Quiricone said.

Despite the lost talent and leadership, the Mustangs won't have a question in the circle next year.

"She's a great pitcher," Quricone said.