Pictured: Erica Piercey, right, is congratulated by North Branford teammate Sophia Ouellet after scoring in the seventh inning in Tuesday’s Shoreline semifinal. The Thunderbirds won 1-0.
By Paul Augeri
DURHAM – Veteran softball coaches like Steve DeMartino of Coginchaug and Nick DeLizio of North Branford don’t rest well before their teams go head to head in the Shoreline Conference tournament.
Tuesday marked the third time in as many seasons that the Blue Devils and Thunderbirds have met in this setting. In 2018, North Branford beat Coginchaug in the championship game. In 2019, it bounced Coginchaug by a run in the semifinals.
“I told the girls that this game today was going to be (decided by) one run,” DeMartino said. “I knew it from the beginning. I think we’re the best two teams in the Shoreline Conference. Nick and I were talking beforehand and I said, ‘I love playing you and I hate playing you because I know what this game’s going to be.
“He said, ‘Did you sleep? I’m stressing over the game.’ I said I’m sure you are because this game’s going to be 1-zip, 2-1. We already know coming in. We know every time we play each other that it’s a tough game.”
DeMartino was right. It was a white-knuckle 1-0 final Tuesday in favor of the Thunderbirds, who scored in the top of the seventh when Erica Piercey hit a leadoff single to left and Jada Miconi followed with a scorching line drive that found the right-center gap for a triple.
This was hard-throwing North Branford freshman Kiley Mullins’s first experience in such a game and she never flinched in tossing a five-hitter. Mullins walked none, struck out six and easily retired Coginchaug (16-3) in order in the seventh.
“She’s amazing. Kiley is phenomenal,” said Miconi, who will go on to play at Western Connecticut. “She plays like a senior, a captain.”
Mullins outdueled Blue Devils senior Kelly Boothroyd, who was equally superb in her complete-game performance. After allowing a first-inning walk to Miconi, Boothroyd set down 14 straight and 15 of 16 with an array of fastballs and changeups before the Thunderbirds broke through in the seventh. She allowed two hits, walked two and struck out nine.
“Kelly was in total command today,” DeMartino said. “This was a great game between two great teams. It’s tough. Sometimes you just get beat, right? Would I rather be on the other side? Sure. Maybe the next one we’ll get them.”
The third-seeded Thunderbirds (17-2) now have a shot at winning a fourth straight Shoreline championship when they host No. 5 Old Lyme on Thursday. The Wildcats also scored in the seventh Tuesday for a 1-0 upset of No. 1 seed Haddam-Killingworth.
Coginchaug beat North Branford in the regular season less than two weeks ago, hitting T-Birds ace Bella Hills, a crafty righty with an assortment of off-speed pitches, well. The Blue Devils got a look at Mullins in relief in that game.
“We’ve had success with both Bella and Kiley,” DeLizio said, “and at this point I’m trying to give a team something different. I gave Kiley an inning yesterday (in the team’s quarterfinal win) and wanted to change things up a little bit and give (Coginchaug) some speed. I was looking at scores against Coginchaug, and those were low-scoring games against some of the better pitchers in the league.
“So if figured, we’re going to take a chance, a big chance, on a freshman who hasn’t pitched in a big moment like this. I’m confident in her and in my coaching staff, we discussed this decision and it paid off. Kiley pitched probably the best game of her life — you can’t replicate that in AAU.”
Coginchaug had Dana and Kelly Boothroyd at the corners in the fourth with one out, but Mullins got a strikeout and a ground ball to get out of it.
The Blue Devils also had an opportunity to score with their three seniors at bat in the sixth. Amalia DeMartino singled to left with one out and the Boothroyds coming to the plate, but Mullins got Dana to fly to center and Kelly to fly to left, with Hills coming in for the catch while deftly avoiding a collision with shortstop Lindsey Onofrio.
“I thought we had something going there,” Steve DeMartino said, “but we just couldn’t put the ball in play when we needed to. (Mullins) did a great job under pressure. With runners on first and third we just couldn’t get the ball in play. I actually practiced that too — getting a ball through the right side, but we just couldn’t even make good contact.”
NB 000 000 1–1 5 0
Cg 000 000 0– 0 2 0
Batteries: NB–Kiley Mullins and Hanna Senerchia; Cog–Kelly Boothroyd and Dana Boothroyd. WP: Mullins; LP: K. Boothroyd. 2B: Cog–Amalia DeMartino. 3B: NB–Miconi.
Old Lyme 1, Haddam-Killingworth 0
OL 000 000 1–1 5 1
HK 000 000 0–0 2 2
Batteries: OL–Emma Bayor and Paige Kolesnik; HK–Bella Richwine and Madison LaTouche. WP: Bayor; LP: Richwine.
Highlights: The pitchers’ duel was settled in the seventh when Grace Lathrop’s single drove home Ava Roth for the deciding run. Roth had reached on a single and stole second. Bayor had 14 strikeouts and allowed only 2 hits. Richwine yielded just 5 hits and struck out 12. It was the first loss of the season for the freshman.
Records: H-K 16-3; Old Lyme 14-6.