WEST HAVEN — Friday’s practice was a defensive one for Southington softball.
Head coach Davina Hernandez knew what her Blue Knights would be up against in Fairfield Ludlowe on Saturday in the Class LL state final and she wanted to make sure her team was prepared.
And it worked. Clutch defensive plays were critical in Southington’s 4-3 victory.
“I'm just really glad to see that a lot of the stuff that we worked on came up in this game today and I felt like we were prepared no matter what came up,” Hernandez said. “We knew that Fairfield Ludlowe was going to be a very good team and hit the ball really hard.”
Competition in Friday’s practice included five points for a double play and three for a diving play. If those same rules applied Saturday, the Blue Knights would have tallied at least 10 points thanks to two timely heads-up double plays.
There would have also been some extra points on a throw from center field to first base that was in time to get the runner.
“In the dugout, one of the girls said, ‘Oh my God, we just worked on that yesterday,” Hernandez related.
In the third inning, with Southington protecting a 1-0 lead and Ludlowe runners on second and third with one out, a Julia Panarella pitch was hit low and on a line to shortstop Samantha Rogers.
Rogers extended her glove downward and made a shoelace grab to secure the second out and, with the runner on third taking off on contact, was able to sling the ball to Lauren Verilli at third for an inning-ending double play.
“Every single pitch I'm ready for the ball to come to me, so when it does come to me I feel like I'm always prepared, and at that point after I caught the ball, it was just instinct to go to three.” Rogers said.
In the fourth inning, a towering two-run home run shifted momentum — and the lead — to Ludlowe. There were no outs. After a short meeting at the mound, Panarella induced a groundball out to Rogers at short and chalked up a K.
The next batter hit a hard line drive up the middle that skidded on the dirt and onto the center field grass.
Charging, Southington center fielder Ashlyn Desaulniers played the ball and fired a rocket to first base to throw the runner out and end the inning.
“I've been working on it a lot throughout the season,” Desaulniers said of the play. “I always get some sort of opportunity each game and today Sam (Sullivan, the first baseman) was there and I was like, ‘You know what? We'll chance it,’ and I made it.”
Desaulniers has no issue showing off her arm no matter the situation. Hernandez knew it was only a matter of time before she got someone out 8-to-3.
“Ashlyn has one of the strongest outfield arms in the state, without a doubt,” Hernandez said. “Whenever we go live in practice, I always see her try to get them, and she came in and said ‘I've been waiting all year to do that,’ so it was great.”
After a nice back-handed play from second baseman Ali Rembish secured the first out of the fifth inning.
Later, with a Ludlowe runner at first, a ball was lined to Rembish. She caught it for the second out and then, just like the play Rogers turned on the other side of the diamond, doubled off the runner who had left on contact.
That got the Blue Knights out of the fifth inning without allowing Ludlowe to extend its lead.
“Our middle infield was really tested today.” Hernandez said. “They made a lot of plays; they were just excellent. Just laying out for balls, keeping the ball in the infield. Even though we might not have a play, those things really matter, make a big difference.”
With the game still well within reach, the offense came alive at the right time, but it was the defense that made this victory possible.