By BRIAN JENNINGS
STRATFORD—With her teammates pressed against the fence behind her, Lauren Zazzaro strolled up to the plate with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Her shallow pop fly barely made it into the grass between the infield and outfield, but it was enough.
Cheshire’s right fielder, Mairaide O’Reilly, made the catch. Bella Russo tagged up on third base, but there was no play at the plate. The throw took a bounce in the dirt, Russo hesitated for a split second, but the ball skipped past Cheshire’s catcher and rolled to the backstop.
Southington took their first lead of the game on the last play of the game, and the Southington bench erupted in celebration.
“I think my coach would have said that I went a little too far, but I think my intention was to draw that throw and put the pressure on them. If they got it, then it was going to be a great pickle, but if they didn’t, we were going to score, and we did,” said Russo. “We knew that we were down four, but we’ve scored a lot more runs in one game. We knew we could do it, so single after single, whatever we needed, we pulled together.”
A rally of four runs to tie the game in the fifth and a catching error at home plate in the seventh gives the No.1-seed Lady Knights softball team (24-0) their third-straight Class LL State Title. The Knights defeated No.2-seed Cheshire (23-2), 5-4, in walk-off fashion in front of a packed crowd at DeLuca Field in Stratford on Saturday, June 13.
Cheshire got things going as early as the top of the second with two singles and a sac fly that scored Sara Como, Abigail Abramson, and Samantha Simione to take a 3-0 lead over the Knights. In the top of the fourth, Olivia Odermatt hit an RBI single to bring Simione to give Cheshire a 4-0 lead over the Knights. Abramson almost gave Cheshire a 5-0 lead, but got caught in a rundown between third and home for the second out of the inning.
In the fifth inning, Southington finally answered. Dani Ahern started the rally by reaching first on a full count after an error was made by Cheshire’s second baseman. It took Russo 15 pitches, but she drew a walk to put two runners on base.
Kaitlin Paterson drove in Michelle Woodruff (pinch runner for Ahern) on a RBI double and Emily Lippincott drove in Sarah Nyrick (pinch runner for Russo) on a fielder’s choice. Zazzaro blasted a double out to left field that just missed the Cheshire outfielder’s glove, hitting off of the fence in the air and capping the four-run rally by scoring Paterson and Lippincott to make it 4-4.
Zazzaro tried tagging up and scoring off of Scafariello’s hit, but got caught in a rundown between third and home to end the inning.
The Knights went into the bottom of the seventh tied at four all with Cheshire. With one out, Russo, Paterson, and Lippincott loaded the bases up with singles, setting up the last play of the game that would give the Knights the win.
Paterson went 3-for-3 with a RBI, a run, and a double. Paterson also was most valuable player of the game. Zazzaro had three RBI, a double, and a sacrifice fly that scored Russo to win the game. Kendra Friedt pitched a complete game and threw two strikeouts, allowing six hits, three earned runs, and two walks.
“To be the best you have to beat the best and they’re a top-tier team. I was just so happy to play them, especially being one of our biggest rivals,” said Friedt. “Being down 4-0, I don’t get in that situation a lot, but when I was in it, I just said to myself that I have to put the ball where they’re not going to hit it. I knew our team was going to come around offensively. It just took longer than usual. We got the job done, we got the win, and that’s all that really matters now.”
Southington coach Davina Hernandez said that she thought Friedt got better every inning.
“She shut down their best hitters,” said Hernandez. “They’re a great hitting team and she just got better every single batter. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Simione led Cheshire by going 3-for-3 with two runs and a RBI. Cheshire’s pitcher, MacKenzie Juodaitis, pitched 6.7 innings and threw four strikeouts, allowing six hits, four earned runs, and a walk. Both teams tallied six hits each and Southington had five RBI, while Cheshire had four.
“That’s the best team that we’ve face in the three years that I’ve been here,” said Southington coach Davina Hernandez. I knew that we weren’t going to give up. I kept telling them every inning that we’re hitting the ball and to keep swinging the bat. We knew that when we did put the ball in play, things were going to happen and that’s exactly what happened. We’ve had different people—one through nine—contributing this whole tournament. Bella Russo’s  pitches fouled off at bat was amazing, and I think that really turned the game around. Dani Ahern got things started by getting on base.”
Hernandez said that sometimes it’s those little things that get the team going, which helped in the Knights’ win.
“We bunted people over,” the coach said. “We put in out pinch runners and utilized them like we wanted to for the squeeze to get things going. We put the ball in play and that’s what you have to do.”
The win marked the 17th state title for the Knights in their program’s history. It also was the Knights’ 21st appearance in the Class LL championship game and the second time the Knights have won three state titles in a row. Southington won four in a row from 1985-1988.
Semi final win
To get to the championship game, the Knights defeated No.4-seed South Windsor (19-4) on Wednesday at DeLuca Field, 8-2.
Russo hit a two-run home run that just made it over by bouncing on top of the left field fence to give the Knights their first score of the game. From there, the Knights scored a run in the third, three in the fourth, and two in the sixth.
Lippincott went 2-for-3 with three runs, a RBI, and a double. Zazzaro went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a double. Russo finished with three RBI and Paterson had two runs and a triple.
The Knights finished the season undefeated with their 70th win in a row, dating back to Monday, April 8 when the Knights lost to Bristol Central on the road, 4-3. The Knights were 14-0 in the CCC West and have won the division for the past three years now.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer Brian Jennings, email him at BJennings@SouthingtonObserver.com.