TRUMBULL — For nearly six innings this afternoon, Staples’ Tasha Taubenheim shut down the FCIAC’s premier softball program, offering a ray of hope to all of the top contenders. Throwing heat and hitting her spots, Taubenheim held St. Joseph to three hits over 5 2/3 eye-opening innings. Taubenheim struck out 12, accomplishing in less than a game what usually takes two to three weeks.
Unfortunately, what might have been a nice early-season pitching duel ended up being just another rout for the Cadets. Taubenheim did not start but closed out the game, and by the time she entered St. Joseph already had a 7-0 lead, which would end up being the final score of its third win to open the season. The Cadets have outscored opponents, 31-0.
The Cadets have won the last two and five of the previous six conference titles, and while that is largely due to having better players than everyone else, there is a fear factor involved as well.
Wreckers coach Bob Olah admitted he started his No. 2 pitcher, Ally Curry, hoping both to throw off the Cadets’ timing and to set Taubenheim up to ideally give them just two times through the order to size her up. Curry only allowed two hits, but she struggled with her control, walking five, hitting three batters and throwing two wild pitches in a rare off outing.
“I partly blame the game on myself,” Staples coach Bob Olah said. “My gameplan was to come in with Ally for two innings and then I was bringing Tasha in anyway. I didn’t want to bring in Tasha from the very beginning because St. Joseph is a very, very aggressive team. I don’t want their batting lineup to go through three or four times and start timing her.”
It was a reasonable strategy that showed how the Cadets can also get inside your head before the first pitch is thrown.
St. Joseph was held to five hits, including a two-run triple by Jill Guilfoyle that just eluded a diving try by Gabby Lantier in rightfield.
The Wreckers proved they are indeed a sleeper team with an elite pitcher and a lineup that will hit many other teams.
But the Cadets are again the strong favorite because they again have the best players, starting with Lauralton Hall transfer Lauren Wasikowski, another in a long line of pitchers that have led the program. Softball pitchers have the same influence as quarterbacks in football, and Wasikowski fills the bill.
She allowed three hits, struck out 12 and walked one. With Payton Doiron having missed her senior season last spring and now at Bentley, Wasikowski is this year’s model, and she’s good.
“We all just focused and took it one pitch at a time,” said the junior, who politely and needlessly apologized after because it was her first of what will be many postgame interviews. “We jumped on them early as a team and then held them throughout the game.”
The Cadets have three starters back from 2019, with hitting machine Brittany Mairano in centerfield, Maddie Fitzgerald at shortstop and Claire Gardella in leftfield. In a sense St. Joseph is putting a new team together, with nice parts.
“We’re all coming together and it’s working for us,” Mairano said. “With missing the year we sort of have two freshmen groups coming in. They’re all learning, they’re all picking it up very quick.”
Jeff Babineau still has a typical St. Joseph team: good contact hitters at the top of the lineup, power in the middle, no easy outs and a solid defense. And another All State-caliber pitcher.
Which makes a quick 7-0 lead for this team more early knockout than luxury.
“Our pitching is very good, very talented,” Babineau said. “As many runs as you can get, or one run if you can get that. We’ll fight and scratch.”
Babineau said he has one added dynamic he is anxious to toy with.
“We have power and we have a little more speed this year, which is fun,” Babineau said. “It’s more speed than we usually have. We have kids that can really run. All throughout the order. You can move runners, hit and run and stuff I couldn’t do in the past.”
Babineau said it was also good for his players to face a little adversity due to Taubenheim.
“You want to see that,” Babineau said. “I want to see pitching like that all year. She’s good. She’s going to keep them in a lot of games. We have to combat that and figure how to win that game 2-0 instead of 7-0.”
The smart money says that by playoff time, the Cadets will have it figured out.