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The Madison 8-10 All-Star softball squad advanced to the championship final of the District 9 Tournament by winning two games in the draw. Pictured are (back) Coach Tom Fahy, Coach Holly Nicoletti, Alessandra Picard, Emily Dusza, Riley Marchese, Eden Anderson, Alexis Fulton, Campbell Leckey, and Head Coach Jay Ulstad; (middle) Annabella Nicoletti, Isabella Fahy, Madison Shia, and Rory Ulstad; (front) Delaney Hammel and Ella Lyall. (Photo courtesy of Jay Ulstad )
During the past two weeks, 12 athletes who play Little League softball in Madison had an opportunity to compete in the District 9 All-Stars Tournament for players aged 8 to 10. After losing its first two games during pool play, Madison came back to post two victories and advance to face Middletown in the best-of-3 championship series, where the team took a pair of defeats.
Madison was led by Head Coach Jay Ulstad, along with assistant coaches Tom Fahy and Holly Nicoletti. Madison featured just one 10 year-old on its roster, and seven of the team’s players are eight years old. Following the success that his team saw in the tournament, Coach Ulstad called his athletes “the future of Madison softball.”
“We have six or seven girls that can pitch. A majority of them could play multiple positions. The fact that we have a ton of eight year-olds in a 10-U division is extremely promising,” said Ulstad. “These girls will be here for the years to come. You’ll see a lot of their names in next year’s team and the year after that. They have a big learning curve, and they don’t shy away from it. These girls show promise. It will be great to watch them grow.”
The lone 10 year-old on Madison’s team is first baseman/pitcher Emily Dusza, who had an excellent summer both at the plate and on the mound. Coach Ulstad said that Dusza also did a great job of leading the team by example.
Ulstad’s squad featured four nine year-olds in third baseman/pitcher Alessandra Picard, second baseman Madison Shia, shortstop Ella Lyal, and Rory Ulstad, one of the club’s top pitchers who also plays the middle infield.
The eight year-olds on Madison’s roster are Isabella Fahy, Campbell Leckey, Eden Anderson, Alexis Fulton, Annabella Nicoletti, Delaney Hammell and Riley Marchese. Fahy plays catcher, first base, and the outfield; Marchese catches and plays both corner infield positions; Leckey is a pitcher, a catcher, and plays first base; Anderson is a pitcher, a catcher, and an outfielder; Fulton plays second base; and Nicoletti is a second baseman and an outfielder.
Madison began practicing on Aug. 17. The team was composed of athletes from the town’s two District 9 softball squad, and Coach Ulstad wanted to emphasize a sense of unity between his athletes. Madison only practiced for six days prior to its first game, but Ulstad said that he could immediately see how dedicated his players are to the sport of softball.
“It was fun, but challenging. We knew they had a foundation of knowledge, and we knew they were going against much-older girls. There was a big focus on defensive assignments, situations,” Ulstad said. “It was an everyday challenge, but they didn’t shy away from everyday practices. Most of them would stay after practice and continue to play. They just love the game. You can’t teach that. It’s a coach’s dream.”
Aside from Madison, the teams that competed in the 8-10 District 9 All-Star Softball Tournament were Coginchaug, East Hampton, Guilford, and Middletown. On Aug. 24, Madison played Middletown, which hosted the tournament, in its first game of the pool play, and lost won the game by final score of 16-6. Dusza pitched two scoreless innings of relief with four strikeouts for Madison.
On Aug. 28, Madison took on Coginchaug in a back-and-forth matchup. Trailing by a run heading into the bottom of the sixth and final inning, Coginchaug plated two runs to come away with a 17-16 victory. Dusza went 4-for-5 in the batter’s box for Madison. Marchese went 3-for-5, while Picard was 2-for-2.
After lost its first two games, Madison needed a victory against East Hampton on Aug. 30 to stay in the contention to make the championship series. With the game tied 11-11 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Leckey stepped up to the plate and roped a double that drove home Nicoletti from first base to give Madison a 12-11 walk-off victory. Dusza pitched 3.2 innings of relief and also went 2-for-3 with a double for Madison. Anderson was 4-for-4 with three doubles and also threw out two East Hampton runners trying to steal second base.
The following day, Madison went up against Guilford in the final game of pool play with a spot in the finals on the line. Guilford scored six runs in the first inning, but Madison stormed back to score 11 runs between the next three innings and then plated 12 runs in the fourth on its way to a 23-9 victory.
Ulstad, Fulton, and Dusza combined to pitch Madison to the win. Dusza went 4-for-5 at the dish, while Picard, Anderson, Leckey, and Rory Ulstad each had two hits apiece.
Madison and Guilford both went 2-2 in pool play, but Madison advanced to the championship by virtue of winning the tiebreaker with this victory. Coach Ulstad said he was impressed with how his team shook off those first two losses in the tournament to get a pair of wins and move on.
“They don’t give up. They could have been defeated [when they lost to Middletown], but they knew that if they stayed focused, good things could happen,” said Ulstad. “They worked together. They’re all playing a part when it comes to defense and having a positive attitude in these games. We were walked-off by Coginchaug and then walked-off East Hampton on back-to-back nights. It was a seesaw effect of emotions. Coming together has been very important for them.”
After defeating Guilford, Madison faced Middletown, which went undefeated in pool play, in the best-of-3 championship series. Middletown earned a 16-6 victory in the first game on Sept. 2 and then claimed a 19-0 win in the second game on Sept. 4 to win the tournament.