Published April 18. 2014 4:00AM
Groton - Caroline Taber is tied for first academically in the Fitch High School sophomore class.
"I love school. I love learning," she said.
This winter found a situation for Taber, however, where acquiring knowledge was a bit more painstaking. An All-Eastern Connecticut Conference second baseman for the Falcons last season, Taber revamped her entire pitching motion in the offseason in preparation to be Fitch's starter following the graduation of all-stater Alana Luzzio.
"How I hold a fastball. How I hold a curve." Taber said. "... At the beginning, when I first started doing stuff, I cried. I was so upset."
Yet Taber, the student and competitor, the young woman who has loved softball since she was 7 years old, persevered, listening intently to private pitching coach Jen Hapanowicz.
The result: A five-inning no-hitter opening day against Westerly with six strikeouts, a 14-3 victory over defending state champion Waterford with 15 strikeouts and Thursday's 7-1 gem over Norwich Free Academy in the ECC Large Division, striking out nine and allowing two hits.
So far, Taber, who raised the velocity of her fastball from about 58 mph to the 62-63 mph range as well as being able to locate pitches as well as ever, is 3-0, giving up just five hits combined with 30 strikeouts. Fitch is 3-0, 1-0 in the division.
Taber struck out the side twice against NFA (2-2, 0-2), all three hitters going down swinging in the first and then looking in the sixth. She walked two and allowed both hits to the Wildcats' Megan Weir, who had a triple and scored to tie the game 1-1 in the second inning, and a single in the seventh.
"She made us look bad at times today," NFA coach Bryan Burdick said of Taber. "She's the best pitcher we've seen so far. She's deceptive. The first half of her motion is slow, but she has closing speed, 12-6 (o'clock)."
"I think she matured since last year," Fitch interim coach Arielle Cooper said. "She wants to win. She wants to be in the No. 1 slot as pitcher. She also does a good job of memorizing batters; it's good to have a memory like that."
Taylor Wolfgang, Fitch's freshman catcher, led the offense by going 3-for-3 with two RBI and a run scored and also threw out a runner trying to steal.
Tied 1-1, Fitch scored two runs in the fourth inning on singles by Taber and Wolfgang, a sacrifice fly by Jayden Delaporta and an RBI single by Mackenzie Aldridge. The Falcons tacked on a run in the fifth on Wolfgang's second triple and scored three in the sixth, two unearned, getting an RBI single by Jackie Lewis.
Taber and several of her Fitch teammates were members of last summer's Mystic-Groton Junior League team (ages 13-14) which won the New England championship and fell just one win short of a World Series berth.
They've played for Taber's father, Tom, during the summer for several years, in fact - Caroline first pitched on Mystic 9-10-year-old Little League all-star team - and as a result have a considerable amount of chemistry, she said.
"All the girls I played with were excellent," Taber said. "I knew we'd do well somewhere. ... It feels awesome. This season I already know is going to go really, really well."
Once she got started, Taber said she enjoyed the learning process she had to go through to get to the point she is now, where Cooper predicts the college coaches will be calling.
"I love to practice. I love the results that come from practicing," Taber said.
Meanwhile Cooper, an All-America third baseman last year at Eastern Connecticut State University, inherited a Fitch team without a senior among her players, but which draws confidence from the familiarity with each other.
"Once you play together, you have the same third baseman, the same catcher, the same outfield," Cooper said. "It's a good group of girls; their attitude, they want to learn. We've spent a lot of time going over things, learning things, having fun but still learning."