MERIDEN — Stop us if you’ve heard this before.
The Southington softball team won the CCC Tournament title.
But the Lady Knights margin for error against Bristol Central is shrinking.
On Friday night, Southington and Bristol Central were separated by a matter of inches.
Recording the final out of the game on a bang-bang play at the plate, Southington capped off a perfect Central Connecticut Conference season by beating the Rams 1-0 at the William Dunn Sport Complex. It was Southington’s 37th straight win overall over the past two seasons.
It was also Southington’s third straight CCC Tournament title. SHS has won all three of the CCC softball titles since the tournament’s conception in 2021.
Before Friday’s dramatic final out, the Blue Knights (23-0) scored the game’s only run in the third inning. And it came on a caught line drive by the BC shortstop that was ticketed for a double play until her throw back to second base hit the SHS runner.
Instead of an inning-ending double play, Shelby Jordan raced home from second base to score, and Southington held onto that 1-0 lead the rest of the way.
Bristol Central, however, nearly tied the game in the sixth inning when it left the bases loaded.
Then, in the seventh, the Rams put runners on first and second with two outs before the game ended on a sequence of events that started with a ground ball to short.
The grounder, hit by Bristol Central leadoff hitter Kaley Laird, was bobbled by SHS shortstop Sam Rogers, and Laird was safe at first base.
SHS first baseman Stella Blanchard, however, turned and fired a strike to catcher Elsye Picard, who tagged out BC’s Mya Porrini trying to score from second.
Porrini avoided Picard’s initial tag, jumping around Picard, but in doing so she missed the plate. Porrini tried to get back to the plate, and that’s when she was tagged out by Picard.
The umpire’s call set off a SHS celebration at home plate that engulfed Picard.
“In the huddle I told (Blanchard) if she runs, throw it right away with no hesitation because I knew they were going to try go home,” Picard said. “I saw her come and, at first, I thought she was going to go out of the baseline. But they didn’t call it, so I just got her for safe measures.”
‘I didn’t know (Laird) was safe, but knew we were going to go for it (at home) if there were three outs or not,” said Blanchard. “Safe or out, it was just instincts.”
Before moving over to first base, Blancard dominated over the first five innings in the circle for the Lady Knights
Blanchard struck out 11 Rams and allowed just one hit before giving way to Furniss, who closed out the win.
While Blanchard was in control over her five innings of work, Furniss was under pressure from the moment she entered the game.
Bristol Central loaded the bases in the sixth inning against Furniss and, if not for a few close calls in the inning, would have tied the game, if not finally beaten the Lady Knights.
“Today was probably one of my off days,” said Furniss, who worked in and out of trouble in her two innings of work.
Furniss walked three Rams and gave up two hits.
“It was very stressful,” added Furniss. “When I got out (of those situations) it was a relief. I’m just happy I kept my team in it. It was a close game and Bristol Central is a really good opponent. They were just really good today.”
With a Ram at second base in the sixth inning, a line drive down the first base line off the glove of Blanchard was called foul and denied the Rams the game-tying run.
Bristol Central would eventually load the bases on an infield hit later in the inning. The hit was a ground ball up the middle that ricocheted off the glove of Furniss into the glove of third baseman Nicole Szuba.
Had Szuba not been in position to catch the ball, it would have rolled into left field and allowed BC to tie the game.
Two pitches later, Furniss induced another comebacker that she tossed innocently to Picard to end the inning.
“In a close game like that, it comes down to a couple inches, and that is what it was,” Bristol Central coach Monica Hayes said. “We were aggressive and we competed and lost playing the way we play.
“We just couldn’t get a hit with runners in scoring position and that was the difference in the game,” Hayes added.
With George Washington University commit Sophia Torreso spinning a five-hitter with seven strikeouts, BC once again kept the Southington bats in check. Unlike BC’s 3-0 loss earlier this season to SHS when Torreso teamed up with Alex Sciarretto in the circle, it was all Torreso this time.
With another perfect CCC season complete, Southington’s attention now shifts to the Class LL state tournament. And while the Lady Knights have dominated the CCC, their softball supremacy has reached well beyond the CCC.
SHS hasn’t lost since last season at Masuk. The Lady Knights won their final 14 games of last season en route to a Class LL state title, and then avenged its only 2022 loss by beating Masuk 11-2 on May 18.
As the three-time Class LL defending champions, the Lady Knights will now embark on what they hope is a fourth straight title run. Southington opens the state tournament Wednesday as the No. 1 seed against the winner of E.O. Smith and Wilton.
Southington owns a national-record 20 state titles in softball.
Friday night was also fifth time in the past two seasons the Lady Knights have turned back a game Bristol Central, which enters the Class L state tournament as the No. 2 seed with a 21-2 record. The Rams’ lone two losses this season are to SHS.
Bristol Central also lost 13-1 to Southington in the Class LL state title game last season after falling to the Lady Knights in the 2022 CCC semifinals as well as in the regular season. Southington tamed the Rams 3-0 in a battle of unbeatens earlier this season.
“This is so good for us, so good for us,” said SHS head coach Davina Hernandez of her team being in a tight game. “We needed to be put under this pressure, and we came out of those situations with confidence.
“This is exactly what we want,” Hernandez added. “We want the close games. This is what prepares us for the (state) tournament. We knew we were going to get a great game.”
“We did a lot of little things that we’ve been practicing,” Hernandez continued. “It was just nice to see a lot of the things we’ve been practicing put into play against a really good team.”
While Friday night was the second time this season Southington has beaten Bristol Central, neither wins were blowouts, which is a common occurrence when SHS takes the diamond. Outside of its wins over BC, the Lady Knights have beaten their other 21 opponents by a combined 257-11.
It its two CCC Tournament games leading up to Friday night, Southington made short work of both Maloney and Newington, beating both by mercy-rule scores of 12-0.
Against Central, the Lady Knights used small ball to get on the board in the third inning.
Jordan started things with a perfect bunt single just past Torreso. Picard then dropped a single into right field to put Lady Knights at first and second with one out.
Emily Moskal proceeded to line out to Laird at shortstop, but her throw to double Jordan off second hit the Southington runner in the back and the ball trickled into short center field.
Jordan raced home ahead of the throw, which Central catcher Loreiel Stancavage fielded and threw down to third base to get Picard and end the inning.
After Blanchard started the game by striking out eight Rams, she allowed a two-out single to Laird in the third inning.
Both Torreso and Blanchard started strong. The pair combined for nine strikeouts over the first two innings.
Blanchard registered the first six outs by herself, striking out the side in both the first and second innings. Blanchard walked Lillian VanNostrand in the second inning, but struck out the next two Rams swinging.
Torreso, meanwhile, worked around a two-out single up the middle by Rogers in the first inning, striking out Furniss to end the frame.
She got some help from her defense in the second inning after Szuba’s bunt single when Stancavage threw out the Blue Knight on an attempted steal.