Pictured: The Middletown 12U Softball All-Stars had three memorable runs in postseason play. Front row, from left: Sophie Shea, Mya Arce, Maya Shapiro-Rosado, Carly Weisenberg, Regina Cormier, Grace Saraceno. Back row, from left: Mikayla Gaboury, Kyleigh Franklin, Ella Barone, Maya Martin, Kaylee Brasile, Julia Lane, Jillian Segal. (Photo By Tracy Sims)
By Paul Augeri
When Middletown’s 12U Softball All-Stars start the new school year, here are some highlight of their summer that can be shared with classmates:
Won the District 9 championship.
Won the Section 3 championship.
And finished third in the 12U state tournament out of 140 eligible teams, believed to be the best showing by a Middletown All-Star softball team in possibly forever.
What made these 13 girls — Mya Arce, Ella Barone, Kaylee Brasile, Regina Cormier, Kyleigh Franklin, Mikayla Gaboury, Julia Lane, Maya Martin, Grace Saraceno, Jillian Segal, Maya Shapiro-Rosado, Sophie Shea and Carly Weisenberg — so great in 2021?
“They were resilient,” manager Jen Lane said. “They lost games and then came back. Their ability to compete and come up with wins … they were just awesome. A different kid would get the hit, different people contributed every time out. The team was fun to watch. It was just a fun, fun group to be around and watch play. I knew we had the potential to go far.”
It has been a chore of late to find girls to play softball in Middletown Little League (known locally as Middletown Youth Baseball and Softball). Just one team formed this spring. That team became the 12U All-Stars managed by Lane, who is head softball coach at Wesleyan University, and assistants Nick Brasile, Tom Shea and Jay Franklin.
Middletown’s run up to and in the state tournament was all the more special considering the absence of a middle-school softball experience for the girls this year.
“Our seventh-graders just had Little League to play,” Lane said. “When you factor that in, we said we’d just see where we are when the spring rolls around. It was amazing overall for Middletown Little League this year because the 10U boys and 10U girls reached their district championship series. Overall, given where we were with COVID, it was a good turnaround with (postseason) runs across the board.”
Middletown’s softball team filled a regular-season schedule with out-of-town opponents – Durham, Portland, East Hampton, Deep River/Essex, Madison and Guilford – and would see these same teams again in the District 9 tournament. Middletown was undefeated in the regular season.
In the district tournament, Middletown lost to Coginchaug 10-6 in pool play, then beat Guilford 5-1 to advance to a best-of-3 championship series. That’s where the team first displayed its comeback nature. After losing Game 1 against host Coginchaug 11-10, Middletown won the next two – 10-0 and 8-4 – to advance to the Section 3 tourney.
The Section 3 tournament also was held at Durham’s field, and again Middletown had to climb out of a hole after losing its opener to Rocky Hill 9-2. What followed was a blowout win (11-0) over Waterford and a 4-3 thriller over that same Rocky Hill team for the section title.
The state tournament was held in Waterford and had a round-robin format. Middletown beat South Windsor to move into the winners’ bracket, but a 4-3 loss to Wallingford – Middletown led 3-1 at one point – put Middletown face to face with Milford, the top team. Milford won 15-1, then defeated Wallingford to advance to the regional tournament at the Bart Giamatti Complex in Bristol.
Franklin pitched the majority of innings in the district championship series and the sectional and state tournaments and did “a phenomenal job,” Lane said. Lane’s daughter, Julia, pitched in pool play.
“We had a solid staff, which was important,” Lane said. “More impressive was the defense we played behind them. Carly played in the outfield for most of the regular season, and in the tournaments she played shortstop and stopped a ton of balls and made great plays. She prevented a lot of big things from happening.”
Lane also mentioned Barone’s strong play at third base and Martin’s performance behind the plate.
“Maya caught all but one game for us. It was great to have her back there stopping balls,” Lane said.
On offense, Franklin led Middletown this season with a .579 average, 21 RBIs and five triples, while Lane batted .412 with a home run, 19 runs scored and 13 RBIs. Others who had very good seasons at the plate: Martin (.341, 9 RBIs, 7 runs), Brasile (.333, 1 triple, 8 RBIs), Gaboury (.333, 9 runs) Weisenberg (.333, 1 homer, 16 runs and a team-best 18 stolen bases) and Barone (.300, 1 double, 1 triple, 19 runs scored, 15 steals and a team-high 13 walks).
“Different players came up with big hits at different times of the season,” Lane said. “Playing a team sport, that’s what it’s all about. A lot of people could contribute and that’s why we did so well.”
In the past, Lane has encouraged her players at Wesleyan to get involved with instruction
Lane’s hope is that the players return to play next spring to build on the program’s momentum. At the same time, the girls’ success could be an enticement for others to join Middletown Youth Baseball and Softball and see it as potentially a better option to the travel league experience. The league wants to offer a Juniors experience for players older than 12, but Lane said there hasn’t been enough interest. Middletown players at that age have joined with Coginchaug players for a combo/co-op squad.
“I love this sport. Softball teaches girls about life and not just about the actual game,” Lane said. “It’s great for these girls to get out and do that in this age of computers and phones. It’s good for them to get back out there (amid COVID) to be with people and to learn to love this game”
Lane, who begins her 21st season as Wesleyan’s head coach next spring, has encouraged the Cardinals in past years to be involved with Middletown kids.
“This year they couldn’t because of COVID and Wesleyan’s restrictions being so tight,” she said. “But the Wesleyan players have worked at our Little League clinics and they’ve come to our practices (to instruct). And in February, in non-COVID times they have been involved in our Women and Sports Day Clinic at Wesleyan. It’s important for my players at Wesleyan to give back.”
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