By BRIAN JENNINGS
The top-seeded Lady Knights were down 4-0 to No.2 Cheshire after four innings of play in the Class LL state championship game. In the bottom of the fifth, Kaitlyn Paterson’s RBI single, a squeeze bunt by Emily Lippincott, and a two-run double by Lauren Zazzaro tied the game at 4-4.
With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Bella Russo scored the winning run on an errant throw to home plate after a fly ball was caught, giving the Knights their third-straight state title in a 5-4 win over the Rams.
The victory marked the program’s 17th title, dating back to 1974. And after back-to-back, undefeated seasons of 24-0, the Knights extended their winning streak to 70 games, eight short of tying Seymour’s state record.
In other words, it’s business as usual. Coach Davina Hernandez said that the expectations haven’t changed.
“We definitely showed people that, despite losing more than half of our starting lineup from the year before, we did have depth within our program,” said Hernandez. “That’s something that we always take pride in. We don’t just have one person that’s ready to go for that position. We have someone else, in case girls graduate or there are injuries.”
Hernandez said that the team also gained a lot of respect throughout their championship run.
“There were a lot of people who made claims that we just happened to have a strong class in 2013, and again in 2014,” the coach said. “We gained a lot of respect, not only in our state, but throughout the nation. That just says a lot about the group of girls I coach.”
The Knights finished last year’s regular season with a 20-0 record (14-0 in division), placing at the top of the CCC West above Newington, Conard, and Simsbury. The Knights graduated nine seniors—Emily Lippincott, Lauren Zazzaro, Danielle Ahern, Haley Messenger, Hayley Arduini, Bella Russo, Kaitlyn Paterson, Kendra Friedt, and Nicole White—but the Lady Knights are ready to reload.
Southington welcomes back nine from last year’s roster, including seniors Natalie Wadolowski, Emily Mankus, and Brenna Sarantides; juniors Michelle Woodruff, Megan Mahon, Marighread Scafariello, and Katie Semmel; and sophomores Sarah Myrick and Kara Zazzaro.
Last season, Scafariello was fourth on the team in hits. Natalie was fifth in RBIs, second in doubles, and second in triples.
Wadolowski and Sarantides were named as the team captains for the upcoming season.
“It’s a lot of pressure just to have one captain, and having two different voices is definitely good for the team,” said Hernandez. “Brenna has also been a silent leader, and has also been a prime example of hard work and selflessness. Natalie has been a very strong presence for us since her freshman year, on and off the field.”
Wadolowski has been a leader for three years. In her freshman season, she was named as MVP at the Class LL championship game with a game-winning hit, and she’s been a top hitter every year with the Knights.
The two will lead one of the deepest rosters in recent years. Hernandez said that she could play 17 to 19 girls on her varsity roster all year long. Having such a young team this season brings a certain strategy to mind.
“When they are ready to step in, they will be ready and those nerves are no longer taking over,” said Hernandez. “It’s kind of weird to think about it in that way, but that’s really a big part of my strategy as a coach. We want to make sure that they’re not nervous to the point that they can’t perform.”
One example of Hernandez’s strategy was proven by backup pitcher, Sarantides. Last year, she backed Friedt on the circle, going 7-0 as a pitcher. Sarantides threw 51 strikeouts and earned four complete games and four shutouts with a 0.82 ERA.
Scafariello started at catcher for the Knights and led the team with 189 putouts in 197 attempts.
Other notable players looking to make an impact on the varsity lineup include senior Nicolette St. Amand; juniors Delaney Picard and Amanda Delorme; sophomores Tori Aldieri, Sarah Minkiewicz, Frankie Ferrante, and Janette Wadolowski; and freshmen Maddy Rocha, Gabby Malachowski, Chrissy Marotto, and Abby Lamson.
Natalie started at third base last year and is looking to return to the position this season. Kara and Janette will look to assist Natalie in the infield.
Players aiming to fill gaps in the outfield include Mankus, Woodruff, Mahon, Delorme, Semmel, Myrick, and St. Amand. Woodruff, Mahon, and Semmel could also see some time at second base as well.
Scafariello will have some help behind the plate from Minkiewicz and Lamson. Lamson can also play the infield corner of first and third base.
Aldieri will look to do some offensive damage at the plate as a utility player.
This season’s team is a lot younger than last year’s team, and Hernandez said that they lack experience at the varsity level.
“There’s definitely going to be a lot of teams out there with more experience than us, as far as the girls that will be starting and playing,” the coach said. “But the one thing that is probably more important than anything is maintaining that tradition and culture. It’s not to win a state championship every year, but there’s definitely an expectation to perform to your best ability.”
Hernandez said that the team plans on wearing something on their jerseys this season, in memory of Annie Olander, who passed away last July in a car accident.
“She was someone that was brought up last year to varsity,” said Hernandez. “She’s definitely someone that would have been one of those varsity contenders. She was very talented as one of our strongest junior varsity players last year. She’ll definitely be missed by our girls, and will be with us this season.”
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