BRISTOL — Wallingford Little League’s push for a Connecticut softball championship ended where it did last year: in the state finals against Milford.
Needing to beat the reigning champs twice over the weekend, Wallingford fell 9-4 early Saturday afternoon playing for the fourth straight day at Rockwell Park.
Back on Wednesday, Milford had bested the Wallingford All-Stars 9-2 in the opening game of the state final four, but Wallingford survived and advanced long enough to face the champs once again.
The road to the rematch was not an easy one. It was filled with ups and downs, featuring a 6-5 extra-innings win over East Haddam/Guilford on Thursday and a 5-4 comeback victory against Preston/Jewett City on Friday.
While the outcome on Saturday fell short of expectations, a trip to the title game can never be taken for granted. And Wallingford played hard from start to finish, twice taking a one-run lead.
“We did what we wanted to do; we came out swinging the bats well,” said Wallingford head coach C.J. Slabaugh. “We swung the bats hard and we the ball hard, but they had a great defense and didn’t let a lot of them get through.”
The championship game started with a bang for Wallingford as leadoff hitter Mia Redos, the center fielder, drove a ball to right center for a standup double. With one away, catcher Ava Sutera ripped a double of her own to right field to put a run on the board.
The 1-0 lead was short-lived, however. Milford leadoff hitter Gabby Rodriguez reached on an infield single, stole second and scored on a single to center by Lily Stankevich.
Wallingford kept the score at 1-1, extinguishing the threat of runners on first and second with only one out by turning a double play. Third baseman Lauren Tansley fielded a ground ball hit her way, tagged the bag to get the lead runner and threw to second baseman Arianna Cappiello for the twin killing.
Wallingford rode the momentum into the second inning. Cappiello led off with a double and scored when Logan Slabaugh’s hard hit ball to left field was too much to handle.
Again down by a run, Milford again answered in the home half.
On the first pitch, Julia Scibek doubled to right field and advanced to third on an infield single to the left side by Norah Bove. Scibek scored on a sacrifice fly to center field from Maddie Bonnano and the game was tied.
Milford, though, was not done. Rodriguez roped a double to left field to bring home Bove. A walk to Stankevich later forced in another run for a 4-2 Milford lead.
Following a few quick innings, Milford added to its lead in the bottom of the fourth. The side began with a walk, a base hit and a bunt single to juice the bases. With nobody out, Stankevich delivered the big blow: an inside-the-park grand slam to put Milford up 8-2.
Milford added an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth. Bonnano, who reached on a single to right field, scored on a double to deep left field by Sophia Horvack, the Milford pitcher
Down to its final three outs, Wallingford was able to piece together a few hits in the top of the sixth, but it was too little, too late. Sutera started the comeback effort with a single up the middle before coming home on a triple through the left side by Mya Tyrrell.
Chloe Carling, who started the game in the circle for Wallingford, plated Tyrrell with a groundout to shortstop before Milford was able to retire the side and secure the 9-4 victory.
Amid the highs and lows of Wallingford’s tournament run, one thing was clear to the head coach. “We’ve got a ton of heart, our girls never quit and keep battling,” said C.J. Slabaugh. “We’re lined up to make a big run next year.”