|Stratford Brakettes surprised everyone in 2006 by winning their record-setting 27th National A.S.A. Championship
The best kept secret in softball occurred right here in Stratford, CT, last year.Yes, that's correct, at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field where the Stratford Brakettes played second fiddle to their professional counterparts, the Connecticut Brakettes, for most of the season.
Without fanfare and, at times without too many fans in the stands, the amateur Brakettes played their weekend home games in the morning hours while the professionals slept. That didn't prevent them from meticulously taking care of business in a workmanlike and professional fashion as they headed to the Buffalo suburb of Amherst, NY, in early August to play in a national tournament that produced even less media coverage than the Stratford Brakettes had received during the regular season and one that no one thought they would win.
In the four-day period from August 10-13, the Brakettes again surged to the top of the softball world by winning seven straight games to annex their 27th National A.S.A. Women's Major Fastpitch Championship, an accomplishment that surpassed the legendary New York Yankees as the most successful sports franchise of all time.
Not bad for a team that was second best in its own home field. Not bad for a team that finished the year with a 46-4 record and 21-game winning streak. Not bad for a team that returned only five players, including one starter, from the previous year. Two of the losses were to the Connecticut Brakettes by 2-0 in 9-innings and 1-0.
Winning championships, isn't that what the Brakettes are supposed to do?
Under the tutelage of Manager Jay Stratton, son of the long-time Brakettes Manager John Stratton who piloted the professional Connecticut Brakettes to a runner-up finish in the National Pro Fastpitch league in 2006, and assisted by Rich Roessner, a long-time softball junkie and collegiate talent afficionado, the Stratford Brakettes wrote another illustrious chapter in their 60-year history. It also marked the first time in A.S.A. history that a father and son combo both registered national championships.
A 7-3 victory over the Southern California Sliders of Yoma Linda, CA, capped the Brakettes' march to their record-setting title. "It was a great demonstration of softball by a team of determined and talented young ladies," said Bob Baird, general manager for both the amateur Stratford Brakettes and Connecticut Brakettes. "They deserve all the credit in the world. No one gave them a chance when the season began and even some of the old guard didn't think it was possible. But they went out and accomplished their goal."
While posting a 7-0 record at the Amherst Girls Softball Complex, which included two games in pool play for the first time ever in ASA championship annals, the Stratford Brakettes capped the tournament by winning four classic confrontations. At this time last year no one even thought it would be possible. "Once the 2005 season had finished and we started planning for our initial professional season, Dave Carpenter (Brakettes softball chairman) decided that we had to have an amateur team again. Carpenter stated that we owed it to the ASA and our loyal fans," added Baird.
Until the team took the field in early June, the season outlook was paper thin. However, great recruiting by Roessner and a cohesive working effort between Roessner and Jay Stratton proved too much for the rest of the softball world to handle.
Candice Baker, a player who didn't even figure in the team's plans at the season's start, turned out to be the heroine as she pitched two beautiful games for the Brakettes, who beat the Sliders following a 6-0 shutout over the Storm USA of Corona, CA, in the winner's bracket semifinal. Baker, a senior at Cal State Fullerton who carried a 6-0 record into the tournament, usually played third base or outfield and batted cleanup.
Baker allowed only two earned runs in the final and she put together a string of 12 straight scoreless innings before the Sliders cut into a 4-0 Brakettes' lead in the top of the sixth inning with two runs. The Brakettes quickly responded with three runs in their half and then Baker allowed a harmless unearned marker in the seventh to cap a fantastic tournament performance. In the win over the Sliders, Baker allowed six hits and struck out 10 batters. She also added three hits, including an RBI triple in the sixth inning.
Hayle Guess' RBI triple scored Lovena Chaput with the first run in the third inning. The Brakettes made it 4-0 in the fourth as Baker walked and was forced at second base by Killian Roessner. Pinch-runner Jill Cimminello advanced to second base on a walk to Courtney Bures. Chelsi Lake's RBI single scored Cimminello and both runners moved into scoring position on the throw home. Chaput then delivered a two-run ground single to right field. Jenna Macchi's RBI double, Whitney Mollica's RBI double and Baker's triple produced three runs in the seventh inning.
Baker allowed only three base-runners in the shutout win over Storm USA, which ended third in the event for the second straight year. She struck out 12 Storm hitters, while she had an RBI double in a four-run third inning rally. Chaput started the rally with a triple to right field. She then scored on Macchi's double to left center. Guess sacrificed Macchi to third and was safe on an error. She promptly stole second. A wild pitch allowed Macchi to score with Guess taking third. Baker's double and Bures' bloop single to center capped the scoring. Mollica's two-run single in the fourth inning accounted for the final two runs as the Brakettes had 11 hits off Storm pitching. Macchi, Guess and Mollica all had two hits.
The game of the tournament took place in the winner's semifinal on August 12 when the Brakettes nipped the Sliders 6-5 in eight innings, utilizing the international tie-breaker at the start of the frame with the score deadlocked at 4-4.
After building a 2-0 lead on Bures' RBI single in the second inning and Mollica's run-scoring double in the third inning, the Brakettes fell behind 4-2 when the Sliders reached Chrissy Owens for four runs on four hits in the bottom of the third inning. The Brakettes answered in a hurry with Mollica and Baker putting down perfectly executed suicide squeeze bunts in the fourth inning.
With runner Allison Twarowski on second base to open the top of the eighth inning, Chaput fell behind Kia Fennel 0-2 before she singled to right field, sending Twarowski to third. Chaput stole second base. Macchi then surprised the Sliders with the Brakettes' third suicide squeeze play as Chaput moved to third base, where she scored on Guess' single to center.
The Sliders got a run back in the seventh before Dani Hofer (19-1), who had pitched five relief innings for the win, retired Deann Young on a grounder to Macchi at second base to end the game. Hofer allowed one hit and struck out three batters. Bures and Chaput both had three hits and Mollica added a pair.
In the quarter-final, the Brakettes edged the Saints of St. Louis 1-0 as Mollica hit a two-out first inning home run over the left field fence. Hofer allowed only two hits and struck out six. She had to work out of one jam. Ashley Hall led off the-third inning with a triple to right field. Hofer then struck out Christa Gammon before walking Jena Bruck. Natalie Piper popped out to Mollica at first base and Beth Wade popped out to Bures at shortstop to end the inning. Bures had two of the Brakettes' eight hits.
The Brakettes downed the Western New York Stampede 17-0 in a three-inning mercy game in the first round. Owens picked up the win with an abbreviated no-hitter and five strikeouts. Catcher Killian Roessner had three hits and four RBI, while Kim Ovittore delivered two hits and three RBI. Mollica, Bures and Twarowski all added two hits. The Brakettes opened tournament play with wins over the Staten Island Saints (5-0) on August 10 and the New York Freedom (10-1) August 11 in pool play. Hofer, the winner, and Robyn King divided the pitching chores in the win over the Saints, while Brandice Balschmiter (14-2) and Owens combined in the win over the Freedom, which ended after five innings because of the mercy rule.
First-team All-America selections were second base Macchi, third base Mollica, outfielder Chaput, utility Roessner, and pitcher Baker. Second-team picks were outfielder Hayle Guess and pitcher Chrissy Owens. Baker was the recipient of the Bertha Tickey Award as the tournament's Outstanding Pitcher and she also was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.