State Champs! Gallant lifts Masuk with bat and arm

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STRATFORD, CT — Masuk High School softball pitcher Kat Gallant not only shut down St. Joseph of Trumbull, she also provided all of the offense as the top-seeded Panthers blanked the second-seeded Cadets 2-0 in the Class L state championship softball game, at DeLuca Field in Stratford, on Saturday.

Gallant cracked a two-run home run to left in the bottom of the fourth inning in support of herself. She struck out a dozen Cadets and finished off this fine, MVP performance, by inducing a grounder to second base.

“She did it all — on the mound and at bat,” Masuk Coach Leigh Barone said.

Kat Gallant winds up for a pitch, while leading the Masuk Panthers to a 2-0 state championship over St. Joseph at DeLuca Field Saturday.

St Joe’s pitcher Lauren Wasikowski and Gallant each hung zeros for three-plus innings with Wasikowski no-hitting the Panthers until Masuk freshman Natalie Lieto singled with two outs to extend the fourth.

“It keeps the inning going — gives momentum to us,” Barone said of that key hit by Lieto.

Gallant worked the count full before hitting what proved to be the game-deciding homer.

“She had to give her something over the plate,” Barone said of Gallant’s patience putting the pressure on Wasikoswki.

Natalie Lieto, of Masuk, rounds second in the Class L State Championship game at DeLuca Field in Stratford Saturday.

“It was an accident,” Gallant said of hitting the ball deep and in the air. “I was trying to hit it down and hard.”

The idea was simply to get on base and set up the batters that followed in the lineup, but Gallant will sign up for an unintentional homer anytime.

Gallant came back with a one-two-three fifth inning and worked around a single and two-out error in the sixth before pitching a clean seventh.

Masuk right fielder Emma West made a diving catch in the fourth. Both teams managed just three hits with Masuk catcher Isabel Viglione hitting a single to center in the fifth.

Masuk’s Natalie Lieto, left, congratulates pitcher Kat Gallant, who won MVP honors in the Panthers’ State Championship victory over St. Joe’s Saturday.

The Cadets had as many chances to score as the Panthers, but Gallant buckled down in those few pressure spots.

“We had opportunities. We just couldn’t cash in. She’s very talented,” said St. Joe’s Coach Jeff Babineau, whose team averaged nine runs in its three state playoff games coming into the finale.

The Holy Cross-bound Masuk pitcher throws a two-seam, curveball, changeup, drop, screwball and rise pitch. She said the curve, rise and drop were most effective in this pinnacle game.

“It’s so exciting. I’m so happy for the seniors. I know they wanted this. It was their last chance,” said Gallant, a junior.

This will not be the final opportunity for many of the Panthers. They will lose five seniors — Britney Berg, Kaillyn Welch, Casey Halliday, Julia Boyle and Jacie Hall — but are expected to bring back a bulk of the players.

The Masuk Panthers, a talented team with youth on their side, are the 2021 Class L State Softball Champs.

“I knew they had it in them to do this,” said Barone, adding that the Panthers had only two returning starters from the 2019 team. All of 2020 was canceled due to COVID-19.

“They’re young and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Barone said.

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