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Saturday, February 24 Sports

Westport Little League softball falls in Division 1 playoffs

Over the past two weeks, the Westport Little League softball team pounded opposing pitchers en route to winning the District 2 title. When Division 1 play began Saturday, Westport appeared in prime position to defend the state title won by its age group last summer.

However, a power outage occurred over the weekend as Westport ran into a pair of outstanding pitchers that silenced its bats and prematurely ended the season.

After a 2-1 loss to North Branford on Saturday, Westport fell 3-1 to Redding/Easton on Sunday afternoon at Old Tavern Complex in Orange.

The 12 district winners from across Connecticut were separated into four groups of three teams. Westport was placed in a round-robin, double-elimination tournament with Redding-Easton and North Branford. Two losses in as many days officially ended Westport's quest for back-to-back state titles.

"This is not an end to (my players') season by any means," Westport coach Mark McWhirter said. "They jump right back into the travel season in the fall. We wanted to go farther in this tournament, we just couldn't. We tried our hardest, though."

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North Branford's Angelina Ramada threw a gem at Westport Saturday, and on Sunday it was Claire McCann's turn. McCann recorded five strikeouts and allowed just a pair of infield singles to keep Easton's hopes of advancing alive. Easton must beat North Branford on Monday and Tuesday to win the division.

"(McCann) is a good pitcher," McWhirter said. "We hit the ball in the infield but couldn't connect the ball to the outfield. You can't do that in a game; you're going to lose."

McCann's slow changeup particularly caught Westport off guard. Although Westport's batters drew four walks, McCann evaded danger with her swing-and-miss stuff.

"(The slow change) is designed to throw a batter off a little bit," Easton coach Kevin Ota said. "If (McCann) throws it right, which she did a couple times, it throws the timing off a little bit and makes the fastball seem even faster."

Westport took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning on an RBI groundout by Natalie Schenck. Easton immediately struck back for two runs in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead for good. McCann, who went 2-for-3, hit an RBI single to break a 1-1 tie.

Easton added an insurance run in the third inning to increase its lead to 3-1. Westport's Emily Stone and Catherine Connell each pitched three innings on the mound.

Westport had a pair of chances to erase the two-run deficit in the fourth and fifth innings. In the fourth inning, Connell walked, Tilly Yacenda and Samantha Levin each had infield singles to load the bases with two outs, but McCann recorded a crucial strikeout.

In the fifth frame, Westport had runners on second and third with one out, only for McCann to record back-to-back strikeouts with a walk in between. McCann settled back down in the sixth and retired Westport in order to clinch the victory.

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Despite the difficult 24 hours on the field, McWhirter remained proud of the progress made by his team during his four years at the helm.

"It's been a great run, we've done pretty well for Westport," McWhirter said. "I'm very happy with how we've done over the years and how the kids have developed. They're quality kids through and through."