You know what? This one worked.
No one quite knew what to expect when it was announced that the Bridgeport Bluefish, charter members of the Atlantic League, widely recognized as the top independent baseball circuit in the land, would take on the Stratford Brakettes, 27-time national champions (and three-time world champions) in an exhibition fastpitch softball game that was billed as “The Battle of the Sexes.” What the 3,927 fans to showed up Sunday night at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard were treated to a well-executed, hotly contested game—eventually won by the Bluefish, 2-1. The game was originally scheduled for last Monday, but had to be rescheduled because of thunderstorms.
If anything, one expected that the Brakettes held a slight advantage. Fastpitch softball is to baseball as ping-pong is to tennis, or air hockey is to ice hockey. Which is to say shorter and faster.
Although a “heater” in fastpitch softball is only in the low-to-mid 60s, with superstars like Jenny Finch topping the 70 mph mark, the ball appears to move much faster because of the closer dimensions. The mound is only 40 feet from home plate as opposed to the the traditional 60 feet, six inches in baseball. In fact, there is no “mound” in fastpitch. Rather, there is a pitcher's circle, eight-feet diameter, with the rubber (called the pitcher's plate) in the middle, sans incline. The distance between the bases in fastpitch is 60 feet. In baseball, it's 90 feet. And, as in baseball, the outfield dimensions vary from park to park, but the fences are generally much closer,
Plus, the pitches are different. Much different.
While baseball pitches are used to fastball's, change-ups, curves, sliders, and the occasional sinker, the most common pitches in softball are the fastball, change-up, drop, and, especially, the riseball.
Interestingly enough, the Bluefish had played the Somerset Patriots in a Sunday matinee, with the 'Fish winning,7-6. The winning pitcher in that game, Hunter Jones, was penciled in as the “extra player” (softball-speak for DH) in the evening exhibition.
The Brakettes started Brandice Balschmiter, the four-time Atlantic-10 Pitcher of the Year at UMass, while the Bluefish countered by sending Nick French, the assistant head coach at Holy Cross and former assistant at Arizona, to the mound … err, circle, I mean.
After four scoreless innings, the Brakettes broke onto the board first when Cassie Rucz drove home Mandie Fishback with a single. The Bluefish returned the favor, knotting the score at 1-1 when Ramon Castro tripled, then came home on a sac fly to center by Prentice Redman. The 'Fish won the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Castro banged a single to right field, driving home Joe Bateman with the walk-off, game-winning RBI.
The game-winning run was set up by two errors—a dropped fly right field, and a dropped throw at the plate that allowed the winning run to score. After Bateman, the Bridgeport third baseman, reached base on a two-out single, Castro lofted a fly to right that seemingly would end the inning and send the game into extras. But Brakettes' right fielder Britt Lampert dropped the ball, and Bateman kept coming—around second, around third, and all the way home. Lampert threw the ball to the plate where catcher Mariel Schlaefer couldn't handle the throw, allowing Bateman to score the game winner.
"I hate to end that way,” Brakettes manager John Stratton told the Connecticut Post after the game. “If you're going to end it, end it with a base hit. Make it legit, not with errors. That's not what we're about."
Castro was the hitting star of the day, going 2-for-3 with a triple and one run scored.
Balschmiter, who played in a similar game with the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch league (NPF) five years ago, combined with Allyson Fournier to toss a five-hitter for the Brakettes. French was relieved by Alyson Chiaramonte of the Stratford Seahawks.
"We struggled [at the plate],” admitted Stratton. “The big guy [French], y'know, he crow-hopped, and by the time he got done, he was at 35 feet."
A crow-hop is an illegal pitch in softball that occurs when the pitcher removes his or her rear pivot foot from the pitching plate and replants it before delivering the ball. In doing so, the pitcher often takes a small hop off the plate, cutting he distance to the batter and giving the pitcher an unfair advantage.
"Speed wasn't the issue," maintained Bluefish pitcher Matt Iannazzo, a Norwalk native who doubled in the third. "It turned out you can't recognize the spin or [at least] we couldn't. The ball is moving, and by the time you recognize the movement, you're already [toast]..."
French went five innings for the 'Fish, allowing one run, on three hits while striking out 10 batters and issuing just one base on balls. Balschmiter also went five innings allowing no runs on three hits. She struck out seven and walked one. Chiaramonte picked up the win. The former St. Joseph's of Brookly star threw four scoreless innings, giving up five hits and striking out two batters. Allyson Fournier was tagged with the loss for the Brakettes. She went 3.2 innings and allowed one run (unearned). She allowed just two hits, while striking out nine and walking no one.
While the exhibition was schedules as a one-time affair, it was so successful that a repeat performance in the future is a very real possibility.
"It was definitely great," said Brakettes' GM Bob Baird, the athletic director at Stratford High. "These guys [i.e., the Bluefish] were great. You can't beat this."
The Bluefish, are currently tied for first place in the Liberty Division of the Atlantic League with Somerset at 6-5. They now head out to Central Islip, NY, to take on their archrivals, the Long Island Ducks, in a four-game series on the Island starting with a day-night doubleheader on Monday. The 'Fish will return to The Ballpark at Harbor Yard on Sunday, June 27, for another four-game set with the Ducks with a day-night, separate admission twinbill. The first pitch of the afternoon game is slated for 1:00 p.m., while the nightcap is scheduled to begin at 6:00 p.m. For tickets, please click HERE or call 203-345-4800 for more information.