Thunderbirds Back On Radar, Starting To Play Catch-Up

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Pictured: North Branford softball coach Nick DeLizio has returned to health after battling COVID-19.

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

The Haddam-Killingworth, Cromwell and Coginchaug softball teams have received the lion’s share of attention – deservedly so – midway through the Shoreline Conference season. H-K won its first 10. Cromwell has won 10 in a row. Coginchaug is 8-2.

North Branford has been awfully quiet – for the unfortunate reason that coach Nick DeLizio got word four games into the season that he had turned a positive test for COVID-19. The Thunderbirds, 3-1 at the time, had to shut it down for two weeks.

On May 1, DeLizio, his staff and players got back together for fielding practice. The next day, it was a hitting-only practice. On that Monday, their season resumed, and by Friday the T-Birds were hitting and pitching their way to a convincing 12-7 victory over H-K, the Cougars’ first loss of the season.

It’s safe to say North Branford, the 2019 (and defending) Shoreline champs, is back on everyone’s radar.

“The biggest challenge was not being together for that period of time,” said DeLizio, who battled a mild case of the virus. “We couldn’t go over anything together. We couldn’t practice. No one faced live pitching. It was tough getting back into it.”

DeLizio loved what he saw from his team against H-K. Junior Bella Hills confounded the Cougars’ young and talented hitters for five innings with a combination of a hard fastball and a floating change-up.

North Branford senior third baseman Jada Miconi nearly hit for the cycle against H-K.

By the time H-K began making consistent contact, North Branford had 12 runs on the board. Leadoff batter Hanna Senerchia and No. 3 hitter Jada Miconi (double, triple, home run, two runs, five RBIs) supplied the spark.

DeLizio, in his sixth season as head coach and 12th with the program, has only 14 rostered players this spring.

“The kids are clicking well. They have a great attitude and everyone gets along,” he said. “This is the smallest I think I’ve had since I’ve been here. Since we’re this small, no one gets lost (as they might) in a big team. Everyone picks each other up. We talk about softball family and that’s what these girls are.”

Now comes the hard part for the 6-1 Thunderbirds: their revised schedule. Ten games in 10 days, six this week alone.

  • Monday: Home vs. East Hampton/Portland, 6pm
  • Tuesday: Home vs. Cromwell, 4pm; home vs. Old Saybrook, 6:30
  • Wednesday: At Cromwell, 4pm
  • Thursday: Home vs. Old Lyme, 4pm
  • Saturday: Home vs. Morgan, 10:30am
  • May 17: Home vs. Westbrook, 4pm
  • May 18: Home vs. Coginchaug, 4pm
  • May 19: Doubleheader at Hale-Ray, 3:45 and 5:30

DeLizio knows it’s a lot of softball in a short period. Beside Hills, he has hard-throwing freshman Kiley Mullins to shoulder some of the innings crunch.

“We’re just saying to the girls ‘don’t look ahead. Here’s schedule, let’s go one game and one day at a time. Our most important game is the next game,’” he said.

H-K coach Jeff Talbott, whose Cougars would not meet North Branford again unless they are paired in the conference tournament, says the schedule puts North Branford “under a lot of pressure.”

“They have the two against Cromwell and they have to play Coginchaug,” he said. “Those teams are going to have good battles with them. Our schedule, with the exception of one game versus Cromwell, is favorable. I think there’s four or five good teams (contending for the conference championship) and we’re in the mix. I’m OK getting a split with them.”

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