SOFTBALL: In clash of champions, it’s all Masuk over SHS

MONROE — Pitcher Kat Gallant and the Masuk softball team did something on Tuesday night that no one has done all season: Hold the Southington offense down.

Add in a pair of two-run homers by Masuk leadoff hitter Natalie Lieto and it added up to Southington’s first defeat in a non-conference showdown featuring last season’s Class LL and Class L state champions

Southington (13-1) had crushed opposing teams by a combined 171-22 through the first 13 games leading up to Tuesday’s showdown.

On Tuesday, it was Masuk on top 6-0.

“It’s humbling,” Southington coach Davina Hernandez said. “Sometimes you need a game like this, and they deserved to win and we have to be better.”

Gallant was almost untouchable. She worked out of bases-loaded jams in the second and fourth innings, but the senior right-hander got stronger as the game went on, striking out six in the last two innings.

Her final line was: seven innings, 14 strikeouts, two hits and eight walks.

“14 strikeout leaves us getting seven outs in the field,” Masuk coach Leigh Barone said. “That’s just huge, and she came into this game knowing what she needed to do. She knew how good of an offensive team they are. The whole state knows how good of an offensive team they are.

“She tried to get them to chase. They were swinging hard and she just kept going after them.”

Masuk, which has won the last three Class L crowns, improved to 16-1 on the season. The Panthers have won 16 in a row after losing to 13-1 Fairfield-Ludlowe to open the season on April 2.

For Southington, Tuesday’s loss snapped a 38-game winning streak that dated back to early last season.

“I’m so proud of them and seeing the team they are becoming right now,” Barone said. “We are almost through the regular season and for them to show up and do this today is amazing.”

Panther catcher Isabel Viglione set the tone early She threw out two baserunners in the top of the first inning to give the Panthers early momentum and slow Southington’s vaunted base running.

Viglione threw out Ashlyn Desaulniers after she drew a walk. Later in the inning, courtesy runner Emily Moskal was thrown out trying to steal second base to end the inning.

Masuk struck for its first run in the bottom of the first. Lefty slap hitter Ella Bunovsky placed a grounder up the middle for a one-out single against Southington starter Sam Sullivan.

Bunovsky was seemingly picked off of of first by Southington backstop Kate Griffin. The throw went to first and Bunovsky broke for second. She made it without a throw.

During the same at-bat, Sarah Falcone hit a ball between first and second. Southington first baseman Dom Gaudio fielded it, but the throw was too high and Falcone was safe. Masuk went on top 1-0 as Bunovsky charged around third and scored.

Elyse Picard made a great play in right field to prevent further damage. She one-hopped a single and forced Falcone at second base for the second out of the inning. Sullivan fanned the next batter to retire the side.

Sam Rogers and Gaudio grinded out tough lengthy at-bats and both muscled singles through the infield to start the Southington second. Madison Furniss dropped a perfect bunt to set up two runners in scoring position with one out.

Gallant was able to bear down and collect a pair of strikeouts to end a bases-loaded threat. (In between the punchouts, Griffin drew a two-out walk.)

Masuk made it 3-0 in the third. No. 9 hitter Ava Moretti took a walk to start the inning. Lieto, a sophomore, unloaded her first two-run homer of the day. It flew over the left-centerfield fence and went out so fast the outfielders barely had time to move.

“Natalie spends every moment she can on her swing, and to see her growth from last year to this year and to be able to do what she did against dominant pitching,” said Barone. “She was zoned in, too. She came up to me and said she had a good feeling about today.”

That was the last batter of the game for Sullivan, who was lifted for Stella Blanchard. The junior struck out the side in the third and finished the game in the circle.

Southington loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the fourth. Free passes were issued to Furniss, Griffin and Taylor Sullivan. Gallant worked around the walks and fanned the dangerous Desaulniers on a riser to end the inning.

In a mirror image of the third inning. Moretti took a leadoff walk and Lieto blasted one over the fence for a two-run homer. This clout went directly over center as the Panthers went up 5-0.

At that point, Masuk had five runs on three hits.

Gallant led off the sixth with a wind-blown double. Isabel Viglione made it 6-0 with an RBI single just into the outfield.

Hernandez said Southington didn’t play a disciplined game. The BlueKnights seemed out of sync from the beginning. The game started 34 minutes late. Due to a bus shortage in Southington, the Knights bus didn’t depart Southington until 4 p.m. and arrived right around 5 p.m., the scheduled game time.

The team was told entering the field that the game was starting in 15 minutes. However, Hernandez said none of the pregame issues affected the outcome and were no excuse.

“Against a great team, it comes down to discipline at the plate,” Hernandez said. “We started the game with very good discipline. We were laying off of Kat’s riser and they weren’t getting called.

“We just weren’t finishing; we couldn’t get a bunt down. Honestly, they had better discipline than us and played better than us. There’s no excuse. They had better energy than us.”


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