Montville - It seemed like a curious statement for Stonington coach Ann-Marie Houle to make, talking about offense so soon after senior pitcher Andrea Chiaradio, one of the best in eastern Connecticut, zeroed in for 16 strikeouts Wednesday in an opening day victory over St. Bernard.
"We live and die with our bats," Houle said.
Not that the pitching is, say, awful, with Chiaradio having gained acclaim last year for her "perfect" perfect game, striking out all 21 hitters in a win over Norwich Free Academy.
"If we played in a bad division maybe (it would be enough), but all the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) teams are hard. They're going to hit against us. St. Bernard hit against us. We're going to have to put runs up," Houle said.
And so Stonington High School's softball team won 6-2 on opening day. Chiaradio, despite a biting wind on top of the hill at St. Bernard and also in spite of taking a fastball off her left calf in the second inning, pitched four hitless innings to close the game. She allowed four hits in all.
Meanwhile, Ally Curioso hit a long fly ball to center field for a first-inning solo home run, leading an eight-hit attack by the Bears, and Houle's team took advantage of five St. Bernard errors.
Stonington's lineup features three straight left-handed hitters in No. 9 Mallory Kane, leadoff batter Theresa Kane and No. 2 Curioso and the Bears parlayed that combination into two big innings, with freshman Mallory Kane beating out two infield singles.
Stonington's last game a year ago came in the state quarterfinals, a loss to top-seeded Seymour the Bears would just as soon forget. Stonington tied Griswold for the ECC Medium Division title.
"We had a lot of confidence coming off our scrimmages," said Curioso, Stonington's shortstop. "I think everyone on our team is more than capable of putting the ball in play."
After Curioso's homer, St. Bernard - in coach Brittany Connors' first career game - came back to tie the game 1-1 in its half of the first on an RBI single to left by Gretchen Green.
Stonington added three in the third when Mallory Kane led off with a slap single to short, Theresa Kane followed with a slap hit that buried itself into the ground right next to home plate, and Curioso hit a sacrifice fly to make it 2-1.
Katie Headley hit an RBI single and Christine McNeil reached on a fielder's choice and scored on an error.
St. Bernard scored in the bottom of the third on another hit by Green, making it 4-2, but Stonington added two unearned runs off pitcher Mena Buscetto in the sixth.
It was St. Bernard's first game since reaching the Class S state championship game a year ago and the Saints have several players at different positions, including a move to shortstop by all-state outfielder Ali Patterson.
"I think we're going to have a good solid team. They just need experience playing together," said Connors, a former Waterford High School pitcher. "... I always knew (coaching) was the next step after playing. I got a lot of my nerves out today. I acted like I was good, but I'm glad the first one's done."
Houle calls Chiaradio, the Bears' ace, a "remarkable kid."
"She's playing like a senior," Houle said. "She's a captain. She's a senior. She stayed after practice for an hour yesterday, pitching, fielding ground balls, like 'What do I do to get better?' She's very hard-working and I still think she's underrated; sometimes she's labeled so much for that one game. But this is her senior year. I told her, 'This is what you've been playing for.'"