(Editor’s note: This story, published in the May 21, 2010, edition of the Citizen’s News, covers the season-derailing injury suffered by Woodland High softball pitcher Katie Alfiere. This story won first place at the 2010 Connecticut SPJ Awards among sports news stories in the community non-daily category.)

BEACON FALLS, Conn. — It’s essentially useless, but it probably just cost Katie Alfiere and the Woodland softball team a heck of a lot.

In just a few fell swoops of the surgeon’s knife to remove Alfiere’s infected appendix last Wednesday morning, much more was taken away from both the star senior and the Hawks — the undefeated season they were working on went by the wayside last week with an 8-2 loss at Wolcott in Alfiere’s first game out and now the Naugatuck Valley League and Class M state championships are highly in doubt.

Two weeks ago, Alfiere experienced the first pains in her stomach but simply “ignored it” and proceeded to throw a 4-0 shutout against St. Paul for Woodland’s 14th win of the season. Her condition worsened throughout the weekend, but even then she says she thought it was only the flu and continued to ignore the stomach pain.

“I went to school [Monday] because we had a game against Watertown and I pitched,” Alfiere says. “I was in extreme pain, but I pitched because I had to pitch.”

And pitch she did, leading the Hawks to a 10-4 comeback victory on what we at Citizen’s News called an “off day.” Little did we know she pitched the game with an infected, leaking appendix.

Alfiere, always known as a tough competitor, went to school again Tuesday as the pain worsened.

“I couldn’t really stand up straight and my stomach was swelled up but I ignored it,” Alfiere says. “I watched practice and went home and ate a bowl of chicken noodle soup because I couldn’t eat anything else.”

That was the last meal Alfiere would have for four days, as she went to the emergency room Tuesday night to find out the problem. After a late-night CAT scan, Alfiere received the diagnosis — appendicitis.

Alfiere had surgery to remove the appendix — which luckily had not burst after at least four days of swelling — Wednesday morning and left the hospital Thursday afternoon. Before she left, the doctors told her the news she dreaded — she couldn’t play softball for 3-4 weeks, until after the end of the state tournament.

“I was upset but it’s not like there was really anything I could do about it,” Alfiere says. “The surgery had to happen. Obviously, I was upset, but I couldn’t really do anything.”

Not even five hours after leaving the hospital, Alfiere made with her parents the trip to Wolcott to watch her undefeated Hawks play their first game without her.

“At first I was okay with it,” Alfiere says of watching from the dugout. “I couldn’t really wait to go and watch because I hadn’t been at a softball field in four days. It didn’t really sink in [that I was out] until Wolcott gave me a card after the game because it showed they cared.”

It was an 8-2 loss for the Hawks, unable to shut down Wolcott’s offense and unable to produce much themselves. With that, the undefeated season Alfiere dreamed of was lost.

“When we lost it made me realize more that I was out,” Alfiere says. “I couldn’t fix it, I couldn’t do anything about it. The season meant a lot. I wanted to do well, I wanted to be the undefeated team because I think as a team we all deserved it, but I guess it didn’t really work out that way.”

Coaches from throughout the NVL and the state have sent cards and e-mails relaying well wishes to Alfiere for a speedy recovery. She hopes to not only be ready for summer softball with her Xtreme Chaos club to prep for her first year at Quinnipiac University in the fall, but says she’s going to try her best to return for the state tournament.

“I want to be back for states,” Alfiere says. “I really do. I have my doctor’s appointment Thursday. I’m going to try. But it looks like I’m going to be watching the rest of the season, unfortunately.”

As she watches, she continues to fulfill her role as captain admirably, attending every game and practice and cheering on her teammates. They’ll be the ones to determine the fate of this season for Woodland.

“I don’t think the team needs to really change,” Alfiere said. “Obviously me not being there is a huge impact. But they’re very good defensively so it shouldn’t be a problem there, but mentally it hurts. I just told them to play their game.”

Luckily, Alfiere can live without her appendix. Now we’ll see if the Hawks can live without her.

(Editor’s note: Here’s how the story looked in print.)

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