West Haven - Starting from her position in left field, Waterford's Claire Hurley wound up in dead center, seeming to glide as she raced toward a ball hit in the gap.
On she went, gliding, gliding, as if she was running the 100-meter dash, until she plucked the gapper out of the air almost magically, robbing Granby Memorial's Amy Bilodeau of extra bases in the bottom of the seventh inning of the state championship game.
"I told them before that last inning, 'Give everything you have; want the ball hit to you,'" Waterford coach Liz Sutman said. "That girl wanted the ball hit to her."
Hurley, who added two hits, two RBI and two runs scored, was named the game's Most Valuable Player on Sunday as the 12th-seeded Waterford High School softball team outfired No. 2 Granby 6-3 to win the Class M state championship at Frank Biondi Field.
It was a state tournament of a lifetime for a team which lost five games during the regular season, three in a seven-day span, came apart to lose the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship and nearly fell in the first round of the Class M tournament, having to fight off Rocky Hill for a 10-9 victory.
It was the fourth state championship in program history for the Lancers (22-6), the third under Sutman.
"It's the best feeling in the world," said Waterford senior pitcher Megan Spellman. "So amazing I couldn't stop crying. To go through a season like that and finally be able to finish it … we were so pumped for it."
"It's awesome," said Sutman, in her 12th season. "Unbelievably special. They drove me crazy at times. But they got it done."
Waterford trailed 3-2 when it came to bat in the top of the fourth inning. Julia Zawacki, one of the stars of the Lancers' postseason, led off with a double to center field and Sarah Pacheco moved her to third with a slap back to the pitcher.
Sara Buscetto hit the ball to third baseman Megan Nilson, who faked a throw to first base to try to catch Zawacki napping but did not. Buscetto quickly stole second to put runners on second and third with one out for the left-handed hitting Hurley, who drove in a pair of runs with a single past the shortstop.
Hurley took second on the throw home, third on a chopper by Talia Rickerson and scored on a squeeze bunt by Jodi Weiss almost before the ball was fielded, making it 5-3.
The Lancers tacked on a run in the fifth on an RBI single by Buscetto to score Jaime Dahl and Spellman allowed just two baserunners the rest of the way. In the bottom of the sixth, Spellman gave up a hit to Courtney Ahrens and walked Jaimee Kidd, but recorded a strikeout to end the inning.
She allowed seven hits, striking out four and walking two. The outfield of Hurley, Rickerson and Dahl hauled in eight fly ball outs, including Hurley's piece de resistance in the seventh.
The Lancers, playing in their fifth state final in seven seasons, last winning titles in 2009 and 2010, were doing so despite losing the Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year in pitcher Kelli Connors and Connors' fellow all-stater Alyssa Hancock, the shortstop.
They returned only four players to the positions they played last year and added two freshmen to the lineup in Hurley and Buscetto. Weiss, the sophomore No. 3 hitter, was last year's junior varsity shortstop.
That's why Sutman said Sunday that this group won the title with something that was intangible, rather than putting up the eye-popping numbers Waterford has in the past.
"Belief," Sutman said. "Just knowing there's an expectation you need to win. … We wrote it down as one of our goals at the beginning of the season, but it felt like we were writing it because that's what they expect from teams past. We did it by everyone on the team excelling at different times. It was a different way of winning."
Waterford finished with 14 hits, getting two each from Hurley, Rickerson, Weiss, Katelyn Haff and Zawacki (two doubles).
"We know who we play for," Spellman said. "We know how to play Lancer softball. We know how to get it done. We definitely got it done today."