By Dave Ruden
STAMFORD -- Allison Macari is a fierce competitor, a pitcher who ranks victory somewhere among eating, breathing and sleeping.
But success, in Macari's mind, comes with a compromise: she loves winning but loathes having to talk about herself afterward.
That was an impossibility Wednesday afternoon, when Macari, in one of her best performances ever for Westhill High School, pitching a three-hit shutout while striking out 14 batters in a 4-0 win home win over New Canaan in the opening round of the FCIAC Softball Tournament.
Macari, whose velocity increased with each successive inning, said, "I can't tell if I throw fast or not."
Two weeks ago, Macari had a flaw in her motion corrected. She has not allowed a run since.
Asked if the change was a factor, Macari smiled and said, "I hope so. I don't think it's that much difference. I think it was the defense."
The only thing Macari might excel in more than coming through in the clutch is deflecting credit elsewhere. On this day, she was not off base. While her effort, which included an RBI triple to open the scoring, was the headline to the game, Brittany Bautista had a key two-run triple in the 6th inning and then came home on Megan D'Alessandro's sacrifice fly. And the Vikings were flawless in the field, getting key plays from Morgan Kurtz at second base, Tammy Wise at third base and Emily Spoto in rightfield.
"Allison pitched really well, and this was maybe the best all-around game we've played as a team this year," Westhill coach Tom Pia said.
The top-seeded Vikings (19-2) will meet the winner of today's game between Norwalk and Fairfield Ludlowe in the semifinals, which are scheduled to be played Friday. The outcome, following a tense pitchers' duel until the late rally, provided some relief after Westhill, undefeated at the time, was upset by Ludlowe, 1-0, in last year's quarterfinals.
The victory did come with a price, and a potentially costly one. Elizabeth Joseph, the Vikings' star catcher, was hit in the head by a foul ball in the 5th inning. She stayed in to finish while the Rams' batted, then felt woozy and left the game in the bottom of the inning. The extent of the injury and her status for the rest of the tournament and beyond is uncertain.
Jordan Ventura pitched well during her 5 1/3-inning stint. A slippery outfield played a part in the Vikings' first run. Ventura and Ali Reilly combined on a six-hitter.
"Allison throws the ball well and when she gets runs she relaxes, and when she relaxes she throws the ball," New Canaan coach Danielle Simoneau said. "We didn't play poorly. Two big swings. What are you going to do?"
The Vikings took a 1-0 lead in the third when Cassandra Kish hit a deep fly to center. The Rams' Jamie Kuhn slipped on the slick field and the ball went for a triple. Macari drove her in with a deep shot into the gap in left-center.
The run held up in part because of a double play turned by Wise, who started the game at third base before replacing Joseph, on a bunt. Wise later caught a runner off second on a ground ball. Then came a great defensive effort by Kurtz on a ball that hit off of D'Alessandro at first and deflected to the right. Kurtz made the stop and got the out.
After Spoto (two hits) doubled and Wise walked in the sixth, Bautista fouled off three 3-2 pitches with two outs before tripling down the leftfield line to drive in both runners.
"A lot of things go through my mind in those situations," Bautista said. "I get nervous and I start to shake. I can feel myself shaking. Then I don't feel anything. I tell myself to calm down."
The Rams will have six days off before the state tournament.
"We've been working," Simoneau said. "This is the most intense I've seen us."
Asked if she felt a greater sense of urgency once Joseph came out and Pia had to realign his defense, Macari said, "I just want to make sure I know they always have my back and I want them to know I have theirs."
firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @DaveRuden
WESTHILL 4, NEW CANAAN 0
NEW CANAAN........ 000 000 0--0 3 1
WESTHILL............... 001 003 X--4 6 0
Records: New Canaan 12-9; Westhill 19-2.
Batteries: NC--Cydney Ventura (L), Ali Reilly (6) and Jordan Ventura. W--Allison Macari (W) and Elizabeth Joseph, Tammy Wise.
Doubles: NC--J. Ventura; W--Emily Spoto. Triples: W--Cassandra Kish, Macari, Brittany Bautista.