MIDDLETOWN — Every adult slow-pitch softball team that has played in the Tri-Town Tournament since it was established a quarter century ago says it loves playing in the Tri-Town Tournament.
But you know who really, really loves playing in the Tri-Town Tournament, who’s most hungry to win the annual showcase of area A Division champions?
The team that was runner-up the year before.
In the women’s half of the Tri-Town boat, that team was Mid-State Painting of Middletown. Since placing second to Southington in the 2022 edition, Mid-State has been, as team manager Bob Dorflinger said, “on a mission.”
Thanks to steady pitching, clutch defense and relentless hitting, that mission was seen through on Wednesday night.
Playing on their home field at Van Buren Moody Elementary School in Middletown, Mid-State thumped Oakes Garage of Wallingford 16-3 in the opener, then defeated HQ Landscaping of Southington 9-4 in the winner-take-all nightcap after HQ blanked Oakes 3-0 in the middle set.
Mid-State never trailed. Mid-State raked 40 hits. Mid-State scored in 10 of 13 innings.
Mid-State, you could say, made a statement.
“We 100 percent came into this with a purpose,” said Dorflinger.
“That was their goal, right from getting beat last year,” echoed Tri-Town women’s tournament director Greg Post of Middletown. “They said, ‘We want to make it back to Tri-Town.’ They did and they accomplished their goal.”
Mid-State threw down the gauntlet in the top of the first inning of the Game 1 against Oakes Garage, loading the bases with no outs and scoring two runs on a double by Erika Langell.
Four runs were across before the Wallingford squad came to bat in the bottom of the first inning. By the time Wallingford got on the board in the fourth, it was 11-0.
Against Southington, Mid-State struck for a pair of two-out runs in the bottom of the first, then extended a 3-1 lead with a 4-spot in the third.
HQ Landscaping, the squad that had won the Southington title as a No. 5 seed, rallied for three runs in the top of the sixth to pull to within 8-4, but got no closer.
HQ featured the crafty pitching of former Maloney star Leah Hettrick (now Leah Hettrick Milner) and a stout defense led by outfielder Stephanie Kowalec, shortstop Jeana Lee Burke and third baseman Heather Danscak.
The Southington squad, though, could not sustain enough offense — certainly not enough to overtake Mid-State despite a 4-for-7 night from sweet-swinging left-hander Kailey Egbert.
The Middletown squad was paced by infielders Mallory Street and Kourtney Lasso. Both went 5-for-8.
Street, a Wallingford resident, got Mid-State rolling against Southington with a two-run single in the first, then legged out a three-run homer that opened up breathing room in the third.
Though a left-hander, Street also played second base and made a nifty 4-6 put-out to end the sixth and squelch Southington’s comeback bid.
Kristen Dorio pitched both games for Mid-State. She also rapped out five hits in nine at-bats.
“My pitcher Kristen Dorio: unbelievable,” said Dorflinger. “There’s a lot of people out there who think a slow-pitcher pitcher just throws strikes. Absolutely, there is a craft to it.”
Dorflinger’s two daughters, Brittney and Mallorie, also played key roles Wednesday. Brittney Dorflinger cracked a pair of hits in the final and was a sure-handed glove at first base. Mallorie Dorflinger went 4-for-8 on the night and covered broad acreage in left-center.
Langell finished 4-for-9. Her night included a pair of triples against Oakes Garage.
Like Mid-State, Oakes Garage was making its second straight appearance in the Tri-Town, albeit under a different sponsor. Last year, these same girls played under the banner of Pancheros.
In their return appearance on Wednesday, the Wallingford champs had their chances, but left far too many runners aboard, including 12 in the shutout loss against Southington.
Stephanie Lavado Berghorn, the softball and field hockey coach at Lyman Hall, drove in two of three three Wallingford runs against Mid-State with a double to the center field fence.
Former Platt standout Becca Costello was 3-for-3 in that game for Oakes. Her twin sister, Marissa Costello, highlighted the Wallingford defense at shortstop.
The two losses Wednesday night were the first Oakes Garage had suffered on the field this season. The Wallingford champs came in 19-1, with the one loss coming via forfeit.
Mid-State also had just one loss this season, finishing 13-1. HQ Landscaping was 15-10.
While the Tri-Town crown was the first for the Mid-State women of Greater Middletown, it wasn’t the first for Mid-State Painting and owner Ray Francis. His business has long sponsored teams in area softball leagues, including a Tri-Town women’s champ from M.A.S.A. (back when M.A.S.A. still had a women’s division). A Mid-State men’s team has also won Tri-Town.
As for the future of Tri-Town, there is talk of taking the event back to its roots when they were first put down by former Wallingford softball league director Bill Farm: a same-day event, preferably on a Saturday, with the men’s and women’s tournaments running concurrently at one site.
For the past several years, they’ve played at separate locations on separate weeknights. Dan Terribile and M.A.S.A. have hosted the men’s tourney at Nessing Field, while Post and Middletown stepped in when the M.A.S.A. women’s division was discontinued and have hosted the women at Van Buren Moody.
Along with the same-site, same-day setup, Post has pitched the idea of rotating locations among the participating towns from year to year.
“I’ve said, ‘If you guys want it back, you can have it back,’” Post said. “I would love to rotate through just to give everybody a chance to play at different places.”
Stan Capp, who succeeded Farm as softball director in Wallingford, said his league isn’t actively looking to host, and yet didn’t close the door entirely on the possibility.
“At this point, Wallingford is not looking to host, so we would like to dismiss those rumors,” Capp remarked. “Dan and Greg have done a nice job over the years hosting, and if they are ever in a spot where they want Wallingford to host, we would be open to discussing hosting with those involved.
“I would like to say that playing the Tri-Town in Wallingford on a Saturday for so many years was a great time and the town really enjoyed having all the teams there,” Capp added. “Getting it back to a weekend daytime time could be fun again. It was a big family event and the crowds were big. Bill Farm really had this rolling along and very successful as it still is in the current format.”