Pictured: Victoria Wiatrak (in white helmet) is mobbed by her teammates after driving in the tying and winning runs for Cromwell in Wednesday’s Class S second-round tournament game against Old Lyme.
By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL – This wasn’t just a walk-off win that extended Cromwell’s softball season. It was a walk-off with extra juice, because moments earlier the Panthers had just given up the lead against Old Lyme in the top of the seventh.
But coach Angelo Morello and Cromwell have ridden the don’t-give-in train all season long and they weren’t about to jump off on Wednesday.
Freshman Victoria Wiatrak singled through the left side with the bases loaded, scoring Sammy Smith and Jamie Anderson with the deciding runs to send the No. 8 seed Panthers into the CIAC Class S tournament quarterfinals with a 4-3 victory.
“What a game. What a game,” Morello, almost in a state of disbelief, said moments after the outcome. “I don’t even know where to start.”
This was the teams’ fourth meeting this season. Cromwell (15-6) won both regular-season games before the Wildcats clobbered the Panthers on their home field by a 13-1 score in the Shoreline tournament.
That outcome more than a week ago stung Cromwell, but the team went back to work immediately to prepare for its opener in the state tournament. Which turned out to be Old Lyme after the Wildcats beat Vinal Tech in the first round.
“All of these kids, they just don’t show any quit. They just fight, fight, fight,” Morello said. “That score last week was not any indication of how we played all year long. They knew that. We came out to work for six days. We had six good practices. The basics the first three days, then we took Friday and Saturday off, and then we came out Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and worked to get ready for what we thought would be Old Lyme.”
Old Lyme starter Victoria Gage and Cromwell’s Lily Kenney, who won her 14th game of the season, were locked in a scoreless duel until the fifth. The Panthers scored on a passed ball and a same-play throwing error to take a 2-0 lead.
Then it got really nuts.
Old Lyme (15-8) got a run back in the top of the sixth. Grace Lathrop singled with two outs, advanced to third on Gage’s hit to center field and scored when center fielder Anderson’s throw to the bag sailed out of play. Anderson atoned for it when she threw out pinch-runner Julie Rudd at the plate to end the inning.
Kenney, one of the Shoreline’s outstanding pitchers throughout the season, walked Bayor on a full count to start the seventh. She complicated matters again when her throw to second on a comebacker off the bat of Kassidy Standish was off the mark.
Ava Roth grounded out to short, with both Bayor and Standish moving up. Alison Ward singled to center, scoring Bayor to tie the game 2-2, and Standish gave the team the lead when she crossed on Jamie Bucior’s ground ball to second. Jenna Schauder grounded out to end the inning.
Old Lyme coach Tim Gavin turned to the hard-throwing Bayor to get the game’s final three outs, but she struggled a bit with her control and Cromwell’s resilience kicked in.
“We’ve been fighters all year long. We’re going to go down all the way to the end,” Morello said.
Smith’s bunt up the first-base line looked to be an out, but the throw to first was wide of the bag. Bayor got Tessmer to bounce back to her and instinctively threw to first for the out. Anderson followed with a bloop single to center that did not advance Smith, but Bayor hit Kenney with a pitch to load the bases.
Up came Wiatrak.
“The first pitch came in so fast that I thought, ‘oh my God,’” she said. “I had to adjust my timing a bit because I was way ahead.”
Wiatrak squared up on the next pitch and pulled it inside the bag at third. She was mobbed by her teammates near second base after Anderson scored the winning run.
“She just comes up there, ice water in her veins, and delivers like she’s been delivering all year long,” Morello said. “She’s hitting over .350 and there’s a reason for that.”
Cromwell will meet top seed Notre Dame of Fairfield in the quarterfinals on Friday (time TBD), the first time in recent memory that the Panthers have advanced past the second round in state tournament play.
“It’s nice to know I was a part of making it happen,” Wiatrak said.
Tessmer and Malena Signorello had two hits each for Cromwell.
“It was a battle,” Gavin said. “Victoria pitched great and Paige (Kolesnik) did a good job behind the plate. We were making plays and making plays. Their first runs (in the fifth) were on miscues, and then we started hitting late. I was very proud of our team to dig down and show some character and score those runs in the last inning. We hit the ball really hard in the last inning.
“I thought we were good going in (to the last of the seventh). Emma throws hard and I thought it was a good change of pace (from Gage), but we made that error to start the inning, she hit a batter, and you just can’t do those things against a good, scrappy team.”
Lathrop, Kolesnik, Standish, Rudd and Ward played in their final game for the Wildcats.
OL 000 001 2–3 5 0
C 000 020 2–4 8 1
Batteries: OL–Victoria Gage, Emma Bayor (7) and Paige Kolesnik; C–Lily Kenney and Monica Dewey. WP: Kenney; LP: Bayor.