SOUTHINGTON — Wednesday afternoon's Central Connecticut Conference softball tournament semifinals showcased another display of dominance by the top-seeded Southington Blue Knights, as they mercy-ruled the No. 4 Newington Nor’easters 12-0 in five innings.
It was the second mercy-rule tournament win in as many days for Southington, which beat Maloney in the quarterfinals by the same score on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s win sends the Blue Knights (22-0) into Friday night’s conference final at the Dunn Sports Complex in Meriden. They will face the No. 2 Bristol Central Rams, who advanced with a 13-1 semifinal romp over E.O. Smith.
“Our goal today was to be efficient because we knew the rain was coming in,” said Southington skipper Davina Hernandez. “We knew we needed to capitalize on every run, every mistake we possibly could.”
Senior pitcher Stella Blanchard got the start in the circle for Southington, ready to build on her stellar regular season and impressive relief performance on Tuesday.
Newington's leadoff batter wasted no time, however, driving a solid single to right field.
Unfazed by the early hit, Blanchard dialed in her pitches, delivering a masterful performance. She retired the next three batters in quick succession, two on strikes.
Blanchard also worked around a one-out bunt single in the second inning by striking out the side.
In the home half of the second, Southington commenced to scoring runs.
With one out, Nicole Szuba reached base due on an error at third base. Szuba then flashed her speed, successfully stealing second.
With Szuba now in scoring position, Blanchard helped her own cause with a RBI single through the right side.
Emily Quint followed with a well-executed bunt single. A groundout advanced the runners to second and third, and Elyse Picard seized the moment, driving a powerful hit into the outfield for a double and a 3-0 lead.
Riding high on the momentum, Blanchard made quick work of Newington in the third, retiring the side in order while adding another two strikeouts to her tally.
Southington’s offense continued to surge in the bottom of the third. Samantha Rogers led off with a single through the left side and Madison Furniss tagged a double into left field.
Mallory Rohon brought home Rogers with a RBI groundout to first base. Szuba followed suit with a sacrifice fly to center field. Furniss tagged and narrowly avoided the tag at the plate to push Southington’s lead to 5-0.
The fourth inning rolled around and Blanchard remained in the circle and continued to stifle Newington batters, retiring the side in order for yet another inning. The inning concluded with Blanchard’s eighth K.
In the home half of the fourth, Emma Lasek delivered a solid single down the middle with one out and gave way to pinch-runner Lindsey Ouellette, who promptly stole second base and got in scoring position for Emily Moskal’s RBI single through the right side.
Furniss, who had started Tuesday's game, took over for Blanchard at the beginning of the fifth inning and efficiently retired all three batters in order, striking out two in the process.
With rain looming, Southington had a sense of urgency to finish the game early. Furniss kicked off the bottom of the fifth with a solid single to center field. Addison Lasek came in to run, Rohon followed with a single to left and Szuba reached on an infield single.
A throwing error on the play allowed the runners to advance, resulting in a seventh Southington run being scored.
With two runners in scoring position and no outs, the Blue Knights had an opportunity for more, and junior Gabriella Rubino took advantage with a two-run double to center field, extending the lead to 9-0.
After a pitching change and a walk, Newington finally recorded an out, but Southington increased its lead to 10-0 with a successful double steal that resulted in Rubino crossing the plate.
Picard drew a walk and, once again, a pair of Southington runners executed a double steal successfully to put runners at second and third.
Newington’s third baseman stemmed the onslaught, at least for the moment, when she caught a line drive for the second out.
The third out, though, never came. Rogers smacked a ball off the Newington pitcher and beat it out for a RBI infield single before Furniss, who had led off the inning, drove in the walk-off run with a single through the left side.
Hernandez commended her team's ability to rise to the occasion in important games, acknowledging the value of learning to perform under pressure.
“They've been stepping up in big games," she noted. "Games like this are great because they teach us to work under pressure.”
Hernandez further noted the Blue Knights have dedicated significant effort to improving their body control, rhythm, footwork, and fundamental skills at the plate. She indentified the team's focus on hitting more line drives and perfecting bunts as areas of emphasis during their practice sessions.
Next up is Bristol Central, the team Southington beat to win last year’s Class LL state championship.
“No talking about state championships, no talking about first round of the state tournament,” Hernandez said. “We’re focusing on our next game, which is the championship game of the conference. That’s something we are very adamant about: one game at a time, not overlooking opponents and really challenging ourselves.”