WESTPORT — The seeds to the biggest win for the Staples softball team in years and for pitcher Tasha Taubenheim in her first season as starter were planted 12 days ago.
Taubenheim came on in relief in the second inning against state power St. Joseph and tamed the lineup, striking out 12 and not allowing a run in 5 2/3 innings. Unfortunately the Wreckers were behind by seven runs by the time Taubenheim punched the time clock.
But if Taubenheim could pitch that well against a loaded order, and the Staples offense could somehow scratch out a run or two…
Fast forward to this afternoon at Wakeman’s Field, when hope morphed into reality. Taubenheim again brought her A game and the Wreckers did just enough offensively for a 2-1 win over Stamford, which started the day 5-1 and unbeaten since an opening-day loss to Fairfield Ludlowe.
“I feel like we sort of turned things around and proved that we can compete with these top teams this year,” Taubenheim, a junior, said. “I think a lot of it is a mentality. The top teams like St. Joe’s and Trumbull, there’s this idea about them that they’re really, really good, and us it’s never been that way. I think we kind of just proved that we can get up there and really compete with them.”
Don’t look now but the Wreckers are 6-1, trailing just the Cadets and Ludlowe in the standings. And one of those teams will no longer be unbeaten after they meet on Wednesday in Trumbull.
The game, not surprisingly other than perhaps in its varied way, turned into a chess match between Taubenheim, looking to prove she is an elite pitcher who can carry a team if needed, and the Black Knights’ Kim Saunders, who has already been validated.
And the two pitchers were nearly even: Saunders allowed six hits to Taubenheim’s five. Each struck out 11 batters. Saunders did not allow a walk while Taubenheim had three.
But Taubenheim’s defense was steadier, making just one error, two fewer than Stamford. And one of those led to an unearned run on Ava Vincini’s two-out single to left in the fifth inning that drove in what proved to be the winning run.
“The job today, it really came down to Kim and Tasha. It was a pitchers’ duel,” Staples coach Bob Olah said. “Each pitcher gave up a home run early and proved they were hittable. So it came down to who wanted it more and made the least mistakes. Today was our day.”
Saunders is also one of the state’s best hitters, and that led to the second front against Taubenheim. Saunders left her mark early, leading off the second inning with a line-drive home run to center field.
But the Black Knights did not get to ride the momentum long, because Ally Schwartz answered with a home run to right in the bottom of the inning to tie the game.
In the top of the fifth, Taubenheim walked two batters sandwiched around an infield error, bringing Saunders to the plate with the bases loaded. Taubenheim, displaying none of the nerves she said were pressing inside, struck out Saunders on three pitches to keep the score tied.
Taubenheim said she and catcher Jen Westphal learned from Saunders’ initial at-bat.
“The first home run I pitched her inside after a screw and I sort of learned from that I shouldn’t be pitching it inside against Kim,” Taubenheim said. “So Jen and I, we went to a drop curve on all three pitches. It was very stressful and I knew that if there was a stressful moment and there was someone up at bat who would take advantage of the situation it was going to be her.”
Taubenheim has been making an impression with the coaches of the league’s top teams as she makes her first real lap around the league.
“It was a tough one today but you have to learn from your losses,” Stamford coach Melissa Giordano said. “Their pitcher threw a hell of a game. She forced a lot of pressure on us and they were prepared. They were better than us.”
Taubenheim had one more jam to get out of, in the top of the seventh. Kate Hogan and Charlise Karukas each singled, bringing Samantha Albert to the plate with two outs and Saunders in the on-deck circle.
Albert hit a hard ground ball to shortstop that was initially bobbled by Vincini, but she recovered and got the ball to Miranda Rodriguez at second base for the force just in time to end the game.
“The St. Joe’s game definitely boosted my confidence,” Taubenheim said. “Really holding them from getting runs, I proved to myself that I can do that, which is sort of carrying out for the season because I sort of did that today. I think this will show other teams that we can compete against them and people are going to be looking at us differently this year after this game.”