|Stags were not to be denied|
The Fairfield Stags swept the Monmouth Hawks Saturday in Buffalo, New York, winning the championship of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference for the first time since 1991.
Seven times previously the Fairfield Stags made it to the championship game of the MAAC tournament, and seven times they walked off the field disappointed. Somehow this season felt different. Maybe because the pressure was not on them this time; last year they hosted the tournament and fell in one day. Maybe after a rough start of the season, they had to fight and claw to get back into contention. Whatever the reason, this time they made it all the way through, and are champions of the MAAC.
Fairfield would have to beat Monmouth twice on this day to claim that championship, and game one began like the streaking Hawks' previous tournament games had begun - with them jumping out of the gate with a substantial early lead. Coach Berndt had her team fired up from the first pitch of this tournament. Monmouth took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning thanks to Rachel Shotzbarger's RBI single. The Stags tied the game in the bottom of the first, with Sam Frungillo's ground ball RBI providing the run. But the Hawks came right back with a four hit, three run inning in the top of the second. Vanessa Cardoza led off the inning with a double, followed by Jill Fresse's home run blast over the left field fence. An error scored another run, and the Hawks were up 4-1, and looking well on their way to getting the one win they needed. But Fairfield stayed composed, and put up a three spot of their own in the bottom of the same inning to tie the game up 4-4. They quickly loaded the bases, then took advantage of two Monmouth errors to close to within a run. Sam Frungillo's second RBI of the game then sent the tying run home. Rachel Shotzbarger, who had a great tournament, led off the top of the third inning with a home run to give the Hawks the lead once more. But after that, it was all Fairfield the rest of the day. Pitcher Destinee Pallotto, who was pulled in Fairfield's winners' bracket game vs. Monmouth with the Stags in the lead (they eventually lost), would not leave the circle this day. She shut out the Hawks in game one's final four innings. Her team gave her the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring four times. Molly Roche tied the game with a long homer over the center field fence. The Stags weren't done though, getting four more hits in the frame. Lauren Filicia's RBI single; then Sammy Ruffolo's 2 RBI double to the center field fence sealed the victory, and forced a "winner take all" championship game.
The Stags stormed out early in game two, and never looked back. Sam Frungillo drove home her third run of the day to give them a 1-0 first inning lead. Then a six hit, six run onslaught in the second inning built a lead that Monmouth simply could not overcome. Kate Robinson doubled home a run; she would hit a remarkable 7 for 7 on the day. She was 10 for 14 in the tournament and inexplicably left off the All-Tournament team. Lauren Filicia singled home a run; Tori Reed and Sammy Ruffolo perfectly executed a suicide squeeze bunt; Kristen Ball singled home a run; Kate Robinson singled home another in her second at bat of the inning. Monmouth was visibly stunned after having played ahead the whole tournament. They did keep fighting, scoring five runs in the game, but they never got close to the Stags. Destinee Pallotto pitched her second complete game of the day, and when she recorded the last out, the Fairfield players erupted into a frenzy. They later doused long time head coach Julie Brzezinski with the traditional water bucket shower!
Fairfield won the MAAC way back in 1991 before the conference had an automatic bid to the national tournament, so they will be making their first ever appearance in the NCAAs. They will find out Sunday evening where they will be playing. Monmouth made a great run, and the experience should prove invaluable next season.