FAIRFIELD — Olivia Vadas would be the first person to acknowledge that softball is a team sport. But there is no denying that the main character in Fairfield Warde’s 4-3 FCIAC quarterfinal victory today over crosstown rival Fairfield Ludlowe was one Olivia Vadas.
Vadas, one of the best all-around players in the conference, pitched what she said was not her best game of the season but a complete-game nonetheless. She hit a decisive three-run homer. She added a heads-up play on defense that stopped the tying run from scoring. And, oh yeah, she also made a throwing error that could have been critical … if not for the aforementioned facts.
“We’re all completely comfortable when the ball is in her hands,” Warde coach Kenya McVey said after the Mustangs earned a semifinal berth. Warde will play the winner of tomorrow’s Greenwich-Trumbull game in one of the semifinals Monday at Sacred Heart University. “She is always able to remain calm and focused.”
Vadas tossed a shutout against Ludlowe one week earlier but the Falcons put her and the sixth-seeded Mustangs (13-5) in a 1-0 hole in the second inning. Holly Casey singled and scored on Bella Bookas’ double. The early deficit didn’t faze the Warde senior, who will be playing at Sacred Heart next year.
“There was tension when we fell behind,” Vadas said, “but we all have each other’s back so I wasn’t worried.”
The third-seeded Falcons (15-6) and starting pitcher Kylee Holderied might have started worrying the way the top of the third inning unfolded, especially when Vadas stepped to the plate with two on and two outs. Before that Molly Meehan had singled, Sophie Sancho walked and Jasmine Castro reached on a bunt single to load the bases.
Warde tied the game on an RBI groundout by Haley Bivens before Vadas came up and delivered a three-run homer over the right-centerfield fence.
“Liv is a great pitcher and a great competitor,” Ludlowe coach Lou Bunosso said. “She showed today why she’s a Division 1 player.”
“The home run was huge,” McVey added. “It was big for us but also for her to go back out there as the pitcher (with a three-run lead).”
As disappointed as Vadas said she was with her pitching effort (a seven-hitter, three strikeouts), she was thrilled with that one swing of the bat.
“That home run,” she said, “was a flip-the-switch moment.”
In the bottom of the fourth, however, things got dicey for the Mustangs. Ludlowe’s Elizabeth Doolan singled and went to second on a wild pitch before Margaret Nolan walked. Grace Kesser then laid down a nice potential sacrifice bunt, but Vadas rushed and threw wildly to first, allowing Doolan to score to make it 4-2, and leaving runners on second and third with no outs.
Vadas, who struck out 13 Falcons in last week’s win, retired the next two batters, and then after a Warde error allowed Ludlowe to cut it to 4-3, she got the final out of the inning.
“With second and third and no outs we only got one more run,” Bunosso said. “A play here or a play there, that’s what wins games but (Vadas) got out of it. They made the plays and she made the pitches when she had to.”
Meanwhile, Holderied was throwing a good game for Ludlowe, save for the one pitch to Vadas.
“This was the fourth day in a row Holderied has pitched,” Bunosso said. “We asked a lot out of her but she bounced back after the home run.”
Holderied allowed just three hits over the final four innings.
Ludlowe came close to tying the game in the bottom of the sixth before Vadas again came through with the big play. Nolan led off with an infield single and Clark’s single put runners on first and second with two outs. Then when Holderied singled to center Vadas took the cut-off throw and caught Nolan between third and home.
Some players might have thrown to third or home to get Nolan in a pickle and risk a bad throw that would have allowed the tying run to score. But Vadas didn’t hesitate making the smart play. She ran right at Nolan and made the tag for the third out. A 1-2-3 seventh inning secured the victory.
“Liv is always focused on getting the job done,” McVey said. “She has that look in her eyes — totally focused — no matter the situation.”
Vadas had two hits and Avery Yardis had two hits for Warde.
Ira Boci led Ludlowe with a pair of singles.