Norwich — East Lyme High School softball coach Judy Deeb posed a question after her team's 4-2 victory over Norwich Free Academy on Thursday, precipitated by a game-winning two-run single in the sixth by Samantha Horner.
Said Deeb: "Did you know Samantha's my best bunter?"
You wouldn't know it. Horner was 3-for-4 with a triple, a run scored and the game-winning hit. She also tripled in two runs and scored the game-winning run last week against Stonington, helping hand the Bears their only loss.
"We have a lot of strong hitters and it helps out a lot," Horner said. "We all like to play. We all like to bat. ... I definitely look forward to (batting). You're a little nervous, a little excited. You've got to have fun with it."
Horner, the Vikings' sophomore third baseman, hits second after her sister Madison, the team's junior shortstop.
East Lyme (7-2, 2-2 Eastern Connecticut Conference Large) finished with 11 hits against NFA, with seven of the nine batters credited with at least one hit. The Vikings' seven, eight and nine hitters, Sydney Swanson, Kirsten McGinty and Shae Crosby, combined for three hits, a walk, an RBI and a sacrifice bunt.
The depth of its lineup has been making East Lyme tough to contend with this season. It's something the Vikings are hoping can propel them into the eight-team ECC tournament later this season. Two teams qualify for the tournament from each division, plus two wild card teams.
"Their 7-8-9 killed us today," NFA coach Bryan Burdick said. "Not that the top of the order didn't. But the batters at the bottom of their order hit, and not just a bloop or a cheap little single. That's a luxury a lot of teams don't have."
East Lyme led 1-0 in the fourth on an RBI groundout by McGinty, a sophomore, following consecutive singles to start the inning by Paige Palmieri, Sarah Bond and Swanson.
NFA took a 2-1 edge in the fourth on a two-run single by Nikki Hebert, but missed an opportunity to score further when the Wildcats had a runner thrown out at the plate on a squeeze bunt.
Samantha Horner smacked a triple over the outfield to start the fifth and scored on a groundout by Morgan Lloyd to tie it for East Lyme.
Then, in the sixth, Swanson and McGinty both laced first-pitch singles up the middle and were bunted to second and third by Crosby. Madison Horner hit a fly ball to center, but courtesy runner Nicole Lee found herself too far down the line to tag up. With two outs, Samantha Horner came through with a single up the middle for the 4-2 lead.
"It's nervewracking," Horner said. "I knew I had to get something done."
Anna Salvatore pitched a six-hitter for East Lyme, keeping the Wildcats off balance despite brief showers that fell throughout the game. She struck out six and walked one.
NFA, which got a triple by Emily Devito and six fly ball outs to all-state center fielder Ally Blanchette, is 4-6, 1-3.
"They've been hitting the ball really well. I knew eventually it would come (against NFA)," Deeb said.
Deeb said Swanson, a junior in her first year on the varsity, has been the biggest surprise to her. Swanson, 2-for-4 Thursday, also drove in Samantha Horner with the winning run in the 4-3 victory over Stonington.
"She had difficulty hitting last year," Deeb said. "Now she's hitting and she's done a nice job catching also. She really listens. Anna has taken her under her wing."