Pictured: Cromwell starter Lily Kenney (left) and catcher Victoria Wiatrak were on the same page throughout the Panthers’ Class S tournament quarterfinal win over Hale-Ray. (Photo by Paul Augeri)
By Paul Augeri
CROMWELL — Cromwell’s performance Friday at the plate matched another outstanding outing from ace Lily Kenney, and that killer combination propelled the Panthers into the state softball semifinals for the first time in school history.
An All-State talent, Kenney struck out nine, allowed just three baserunners and finished with a two-hitter, and Cromwell produced 13 hits in a 10-0 victory over fellow Shoreline Conference member Hale-Ray in the Class S quarterfinal round.
Senior Sami Smith had three run-scoring hits in a 4-for-4 day at the plate to lead the top-seeded Panthers’ attack. Senior Jamie Anderson scored three runs, while Kenney singled, doubled and drove in three runs.
Cromwell (21-3) will meet No. 5 Old Lyme (20-6) for the fourth time this season for the right to play for the Class S championship. The Panthers beat the Wildcats twice in the regular season before the ‘Cats scored a come-from-behind 3-1 win in the Shoreline tournament.
The magnitude of the moment Friday was not lost on Cromwell coach Angelo Morello. When he began coaching, the Panthers lost more than they won. Their last title of any kind came during the Charter Oak Conference days 20 years ago.
“To come from where we started in 2013 to where we are now? We’ve always had pretty good players but we didn’t have a stud on the mound,” Morello said. “That’s not to discredit any of the other pitchers I’ve had. We wouldn’t be anywhere without those girls. But Lily is just outstanding and that’s now two shutouts for us in the state tournament, and we shut down a pretty hot team right here.
“We needed to get over this hump. We lost in the quarterfinals a year ago. It didn’t work out. We missed out on the Shoreline (title) this year. Now we have the opportunity to win the big prize. We’re one of four teams left. The girls know what they’ve accomplished.”
Hale-Ray, seeded 24th in the 28-team Class S field, took a very different path to reach this stage. The Noises lost eight of their first nine games and needed a four-game winning streak just to qualify.
“You have to reflect on the positives,” coach Steve Pernal said. “We were 4-11 at one point. We did improve as the season went on. To get to the quarters with this team is a pretty good accomplishment. I’m proud of the girls. They’re a good group of kids.”
Cromwell gave Kenney a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Anderson reached second on an outfield error to lead off and Madison Tessmer knocked her in with a single through the left side off Noises right-hander Sammi LaFemina. The Panthers looked poise to tack onto their lead when they loaded the bases with one out, but LaFemina fielded two consecutive comebackers for outs to end the inning.
The Panthers broke it open with six runs in their next at-bat, the big hit coming from none other than Kenney, who lined a shot up the middle to clear the bases for a 4-0 lead. A sacrifice fly by Malena Signorello and an RBI single by Smith — her second hit of the inning — would give Kenney the pitcher all she would need.
“When Lily cleared the bases,” Morello said, “it was game, set, match.”
Kenney allowed a leadoff walk in the third before striking out the next three Hale-Ray batters on nine pitches. She gave up a LaFemina single to right in the fourth and an infield hit by Jackie Goetz in the fifth. The Adelphi-bound junior ended up retiring the final nine batters of the game.
Cromwell added single runs in the third, fourth and sixth innings — a Tessmer single drove in Anderson; Smith’s single scored Stephanie Esposito; and another Smith hit plated Signorello. Morello praised Smith, Esposito and Alyssa Brodeur for putting a charge into the offense from the bottom third of the order.
“They have been unbelievable,” he said.
After the Noises lost to Kenney in April, also by a 10-0 score, Pernal said then that she would get his vote for Pitcher of the Year in the Shoreline (Kenney has won the award two straight years).
“She doesn’t have to strike you out,” Pernal said. “She induces soft contact because she has motion on the ball. I’ll say it again, she’s the best pitcher we’ve faced. As far as they go will be on her arm.”
Old Lyme advanced on Friday with a 2-1, nine-inning road win over No. 4 Lyman Memorial. In the other half of the Class S bracket, 15th-seeded North Branford — winner of the last seven Shoreline titles — will play No. 3 Coventry. Both games will be at a neutral site either Monday or Tuesday.
“I think North Branford could come out of their bracket, so we could have an all-Shoreline final, which would be great for the conference,” Pernal said. “It’s a good level of softball. Those teams are at a different level than what we’re at right now. Obviously the goal is to get to that level. We’ve got some youth, they just have to put in the time in the summer and with fall ball. The more ball they play, the more experience they’ll get and the better they’ll be.”
Hale-Ray 000 000 0–0 2 2
Cromwell 161 101 x–10 13 0
Batteries: Hale-Ray–Sammi LaFemina and Jackie Goetz; Cromwell–Lily Kenney and Victoria Wiatrak. WP: Kenney; LP: LaFemina. 2B: Crom–Kenney, Stephanie Esposito. 3B: Crom–Malena Signorello.