After winning just two of its first eight games, the Norwalk High softball team needed to turn its season around in a hurry to get into playoff contention. As it turned out, the Bears responded by winning seven of their next nine contests to improve to 9-11 overall and qualify for the Class LL state tournament.
The Bears ultimately saw their season come to an end in the first round of the postseason as the No. 26 seed when they fell to seventh-seeded Fitch on May 31.
"When you consider that we began the season with one returning starter playing the same position as last year, I think we did very well," said Elaine Gratrix, who took over the head coaching duties midway through the season when Lauren DeLong stepped down.
Norwalk faced the likes of Westhill, the now Class LL state runner-up, Darien, the eventual FCIAC titleholder, and other perennial contenders such as Fairfield Ludlowe and New Canaan, and struggled to find wins early.
"The girls worked hard to adapt to their new roles and didn't get discouraged by our tough early schedule. We're very proud of them for staying focused and making states, and we were thrilled to be in the hunt for the eighth FCIAC spot until the last day of the regular season," Gratrix said.
In the second half, the Bears responded from an early-season shutout loss to Ludlowe by defeating the Falcons 7-6. They also pulled out hard-fought wins over Stamford, Trumbull and Brien McMahon, and benefited from facing some of the conference's weaker teams, such as Bassick and Harding.
"We really weren't sure if we were going to bounce back from that," said outfielder and captain Morgan Delbene, referring to the slow start and coaching change. "It was really great."
Delbene is the only senior on the team, but will leave big shoes to fill. "We will miss her leadership and work ethic--she was a very positive model for the younger girls. Hopefully they will follow in her footsteps and push themselves into a higher gear as she did this year," Gratrix said.
"We made a lot of mistakes early on, but we learned from them and hopefully will carry that experience into next year. We'd love to start where we left off this season, but we're not looking too far ahead. We'll see who comes back, who improves," the head coach added.
Among the many players who will return is the other captain, junior shortstop Katie Schmidt, who said she was was confident her team would get the necessary wins to overcome the 2-8 start and qualify for the postseason. "I figured we would make it. I had a lot of faith in my team," she said. "Hopefully, we can get a few more wins under our belts and maybe make FCIACs next year."
All in all, Gratrix and many of the players believe the season was a successful one. "I'd call it a success because we got the experience we need for next year," junior catcher Mary Sciglimpaglia said.
Her twin sister, Patti Sciglimpaglia, spent the year as Norwalk's No. 1 pitcher and is looking forward to the future. "We're really excited for next year. We're really psyched to leave it all out there," she said. "We're just going to keep building off the tone we set at the end of the year."
Delbene will be missed and, likewise, will miss playing for Norwalk. She sees a lot of potential for the Bears going forward. "They have really great chemistry and I know they'll keep working hard and have a great season next year," Delbene said.