By KEVIN ROBERTS
Two Julias in the circle, timely hitting and some spectacular defense proved to be a winning formula for Southington softball in the first week of the Class LL state tournament.
The Lady Knights, seeded sixth in Class LL, defeated No. 27 Wilton of the FCIAC 3-1 in the first round on May 29. In the second round on May 30, Southington dispatched No. 22 Manchester from the CCC by a score of 7-1. The Knights ended the week this past Saturday with a 3-2 win over No. 19 Ridgefield, also of the FCIAC. All three games were played at home.
Southington sported a 20-3 overall record entering Monday’s semifinal game against second-seeded Trumbull at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field in Stratford. The Knights don’t get there without some terrific pitching, which was provided by Julia Panarella in two games and Julia Theriault in one.
“I’m really impressed with both Julias. They have been doing a fantastic job on the mound, and they have just been such good teammates to each other,” coach Davina Hernandez said. “When one is out there, the other is cheering. It’s just been awesome.”
The two Julias combined to give up four runs in the three wins.
Defense and a key hit
JUNE 1—To use a word from Hernandez, the Knights made some “fantastic” defensive plays in the quarterfinal win over the Tigers.
Kelsey Fernandez caught a ball in center field and threw out a runner at the plate to complete a double play. Gabby Malachowki ranged toward center from her position in right field and made a sliding catch. Left fielder Nicole Greco quickly got the ball back into the field after a hit to the wall, which held a Manchester batter to a double.
“If Kelsey doesn’t throw that runner out at the plate, if Gabby doesn’t make that diving catch in the gap, if Nikki allows that girl to get to third instead of second on that ball to the fence, those could have changed the outcome of the game,” Hernandez said. “I thought our defense was fantastic today.”
“Our outfield was incredible today. Their jumps on the balls were insane,” said first baseman Katie Gundersen. “I’m so proud of them. They’ve worked so hard, they’ve practiced that every day.”
More solid plays came in the infield from shortstop Chrissy Marotto and third baseman Abby Lamson.
“Chrissy got filthy today, and that’s all we could really ask from her,” Gundersen said.
“Abby made some fantastic plays at third. She makes those plays look easy, but those are not easy plays,” Hernandez said.
Gundersen came up big with her bat, stroking a two-run single to right center field in the bottom of the fourth inning to put Southington ahead 3-0. Those insurance runs turned out to be big as Ridgefield scored twice in the top of the sixth inning.
“I was really hungry for that hit, and to know that runners were on, I really wanted to do something for my team,” Gundersen said.
In the top of that fourth inning, Fernandez caught a fly ball and came up firing to home plate. The throw arrived on the fly to catcher Kayla Pelletier, who slapped the tag on the Ridgefield runner to complete an incredible double play.
“We took a lot of practice outfield flies before the game, so that helped a lot,” Fernandez said. “I just thought about what I had to do with the ball in case it came to me.”
Ridgefield did pull within a run at 3-2 in the top of the sixth inning, but Panarella was able to escape the jam.
“I said to her: Let it go, let’s keep her there, and we got out of it,” Hernandez said.
Panarella gave up two runs on six hits, struck out four and walked none on 82 pitches (57 strikes). On offense, Marotto doubled, tripled, walked stole a base and scored a run. Malachowski was 2-for-3 with a run scored, and Alex Rogers singled, walked and scored a run.
Putting away Manchester
MAY 30—The Knights made some adjustments at the plate, then just kept tacking on runs to pull away from the upstart Indians in the second round.
“We just kept scoring, one or two runs, nothing big, but those little runs helped give us a little breathing room,” Hernandez said.
The cushion was more than enough for Theriault, who fired a complete game. She gave up one run on seven hits, struck out seven and walked one on 87 pitches (55 strikes).
“Julia has been one of the most selfless players, if not the most selfless player, that I have ever coached. She is somebody who has worked tremendously hard,” Hernandez said.
On offense, Rogers was 2-for-3 with an inside-the-park home run, two runs scored and two RBI. Gundersen was 3-for-3 with a triple, run scored and RBI while Pelletier tripled, scored a run and drove in another. Greco had a single and two RBI while Malachowski added a single and RBI.
MAY 29—The Warriors didn’t make life easy, but the Knights claimed the close first round win.
Panarella threw a complete game and gave up a run on two hits. She struck out 12 and walked two on 106 pitches (68 strikes). Panarella helped her own cause at the plate with a squeeze bunt that brought home a run. Rogers doubled, singled, scored a run and drove in another. Malachowski tripled, and Fernandez had a sacrifice fly for an RBI. Marotto singled, stole a base and scored a run, and Diane Williams singled.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com