FCIAC

Joannou’s Pitching And Defense Carry Stamford Softball Team On Opening Day

Stamford's Nicole Pease slides safely into second base as Ludlowe's Alice Nelson reaches for the throw. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Stamford’s Nicole Pease slides safely into second base as Ludlowe’s Alice Nelson reaches for the throw. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

FAIRFIELD — Christina Joannou was as economical with her words as she was with her pitches Wednesday afternoon, not long after the best game of her career.

Joannou struck out eight, walked none and allowed just six hits in shutting out Fairfield Ludlowe, 4-0, in the season opener for both teams. Joannou hit her spots, deftly mixed her pitches, 69 percent of which were strikes.

Getting Joannou to open up about her performance was another matter. The Falcons were more successful with their bats against her than reporters were with their questions.

“I gave the best that I had,” Joannou said matter-of-factly. When prodded about her brilliance on a windy day, Joannou offered the same refrain: “It’s the same me.”

Christina Joannou pitched a 6-hit shutout with 8 strikeouts for Stamford. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Christina Joannou pitched a 6-hit shutout with 8 strikeouts for Stamford. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Joannou was the biggest part of an interesting dynamic for a Stamford team that has lived and died with its bats in recent seasons. On Wednesday, it was pitching and defense.

“She had a great game. She had a couple of great games last year,” Stamford coach Tony Esposito said of Joannou, noting that she defeated Darien twice in two weeks a year ago. “She had total command and the defense played great behind her. It was a total team effort and it was nice to see.”

Stamford came into Wednesday a curiosity. A senior dominated team last year, Esposito started just two against Ludlowe — Joannou and second baseman Shannon Stabile (a third, catcher Colleen Adams, will miss a few weeks following toe surgery).

Names like Robustelli, Buckley and Kaptinski have been replaced by Santora (Maddy), O’Neill (Lauren) and Buzzeo (Allie), three freshmen who started and played a part in the win.

Stamford first baseman Brianna Arias stretches to retire Ludlowe's Gillian Kennedy. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Stamford first baseman Brianna Arias stretches to retire Ludlowe’s Gillian Kennedy. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“We’re a very young team and it is going to give some of the juniors a chance to help lead,” said Nicole Pease, who as designated hitter singled and scored an insurance run in the 7th inning. “We’re very young even with the juniors. I think everyone is going to be surprised at what we’re able to do.”

It is foolish to make any grand pronouncements based on one game, but the early returns were certainly encouraging for the Black Knights.

They did all their damage in the first inning, with Haley Lamotta reaching on an error, Stabile hitting a single, Kelly DiPietro driving in a run with a base hit and Brianna Arias driving in two runs with a two-out single for a 3-0 lead.

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Ludlowe pitcher Brigette Anderson settled down and was great the rest of the way, allowing just two more hits.

But the Falcons could not break through against Joannou. They stranded runners in scoring position four times, and a base-running error ended another inning. Brenna Martini, one of the state’s most feared hitters, went 2 for 3, but when you hold her to a pair of singles you hit the pillow smiling.

O’Neill had a single and made several great plays in centerfield. Santora was outstanding at third base.

“Everyone knew where to throw the ball, where to make plays,” Pease said. “We’ve worked very hard in practice to get to this point.”

Esposito has few peers when it comes to superstition — a bad performance and the new orange and black sneakers he wore might have been available at Goodwill Wednesday night — and tries his best to avoid interviews.

His body language hinted at a poker player holding a good hand, but the pragmatist realizes that he will need consistent contributions from inexperienced players before throwing many chips into the table.

Stamford catcher Haley Lamotta helps retire a Ludlowe batter caught in a rundown. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

Stamford catcher Haley Lamotta helps retire a Ludlowe batter caught in a rundown. (Photo: Mark Conrad)

“It was nice to jump out to an early lead, that helps,” Esposito said. “We played some defense out there. If this is a sign of things to come, so be it, hopefully. These kids, if they play as a team, they can compete with anyone.”

And if Joannou can produce at least reasonable facsimiles of the first game of her final year at Stamford, she will serve as the frontman for a team with starters whose names right now are foreign to the rest of the FCIAC.

“I basically just do what I normally do in practice every day,” Joannou said. “It is definitely an adjustment. The younger girls look up at me, but I look to them to help pick me up.”

Joannou didn’t have much more to say, which was just fine.

Her pitching spoke volumes.