Pictured: Southington

By Sean Krofssik

MERIDEN — Middletown High’s strong run through the CCC softball tournament ended in Friday night’s final as top-seeded Southington raised the championship banner for the fourth straight year under the lights of the William E. Dunn Sports Complex.

Southington took an early lead thanks to sloppy Middletown play and aggression on the bases and that was more than enough for Georgia Tech-bound flame thrower Maddie Furniss as Southington hoisted the tournament trophy after the game with a 7-0 win.

Furniss fired a four-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts and no walks.

Middletown now readies for the Class LL tournament as the No. 2 seed after its 12-game winning streak ended in the CCC final.

“She’s a force and has just been a great leader for us,” Southington coach Davina Hernandez said. “She’s close to 70 miles per hour and you don’t see that much at this level. I’m just so unbelievably proud of her. She deserves this.”

Middletown, a team that starts four freshmen, had obvious jitters in the opening two innings as Southington scored four unearned runs on five Blue Dragon errors on just one hit.

“The first two innings our youth showed. That’s an experienced team and they made us pay,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said. “You can’t be behind like that against a team like Southington and a pitcher like that when she’s dealing with a lead. We hit the ball OK at times but couldn’t string the ball together.”

A combination of Middletown (20-3) miscues and smart and aggressive baserunning gave the Blue Knights an instant 3-0 lead. They scored three runs in the bottom of the first inning without a hit. The rally was aided by three Middletown errors and five Southington stolen bases.

“We always talk about scoring first because we know it’s difficult for teams to come back against us — especially against a pitcher like Maddie,” Hernandez said. “I like that we were scoring runs without hitting the ball and with our baserunning.”

Aubrey Perugini and Olivia Gombotz both reached on errors to start the rally. Both advanced to second and third on a double steal. The throw beat Perugini to third base but a headfirst slide to the right side of the bag eluded the tag.

Southington had eight steals in the game.

Angelina Vartuli uncorked a wild pitch to the next batter to allow Perugini to score. The throw back in from the backstop eluded Vartuli and Gombotz followed with the second run on the play.

The aggressiveness continued as Furniss took a walk and continued to second on a base-on-balls. Ashlyn Kenefick was the courtesy runner and immediately swiped third.

She came around to score on an RBI ground out to short by Mallory Rohan as the Knights went up 3-0.

Southington (19-3) was aided by two more Middletown errors in the bottom of the second inning. Grace Cowen reached on a misplayed flyout and swiped second. She scored on an RBI single by Perugini, the first hit by either side in the contest, which put the Knights up 4-0.

Vartuli did well to minimize the damage after that by setting down Southington’s Nos. 3, 4 and 5 batters to strand the bases loaded with no outs in the second.

She also faced the minimum in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Vartuli was aided by two double plays, including a line drive comebacker in the fifth inning off the bat of Julia Barrieau. The senior ace snared it out of the air and doubled off Kenefick from first to end the inning.

“I like the way we settled into the game,” Morello said. “We have four freshmen, a couple sophomore and juniors and one senior out there. We settled in nicely and hopefully there are some lessons we can take into Wednesday (in the Class LL tournament).”

Furniss was perfect through the first 10 batters before freshman Carly Weisenberg legged out an infield single with one out in the fourth. Weisenberg moved up to second on a groundout by Kyleigh Franklin. Abby Young flew out to end the inning.

Middletown put two on in the bottom of the fifth as Caitlin Burgess laced an opposite-field line drive to right to lead off the inning. Peyton Morello reached on an error with one out. But Furniss fanned the last two batters of the inning to stall the threat.

Franklin had a two-out bloop single in the sixth but was stranded.

Southington added to its lead in the bottom of the sixth as Shelby Jordan lashed a stand-up triple down the right-field line. Alexa Poutouves was plunked to give the Knights first-and-third with no outs. Jordan scored Southington’s fifth run of the game on a wild pitch as the Knights expanded their lead in the sixth.

Gombotz stroked a two-run double to as the Knights pushed the advantage to 7-0.

Peyton Morello delivered a two-out single in the seventh before Furniss closed the door with her 13th strikeout of the game.

This was Middletown’s first-ever appearance in the CCC final after an 18-2 regular season and a CCC South divisional championship.

Vartuli spun two shutouts to power the Blue Dragons into the CCC final. She had a 15-strikeout performance in a two-hit shutout against Glastonbury in the semis. Middletown won that game 7-0.

In the CCC quarterfinals, Vartuli tossed a one-hit shutout in a 19-K performance in a 4-0 win over Berlin. On Friday, she went six innings allowing seven runs, three earned, two walks and fanned four.

“This doesn’t take away from the run we made,” Morello said. “No one thought we would beat Berlin. They thought it would be over for us against Glastonbury. We really rode Angelina, and we were getting timely hits. We couldn’t get that timely hit when it was still 3-0 or 4-0.”

Both teams entered the contest on 12-game winning streaks. Both squads are major contenders in the Class LL tournament. The Blue Dragons enter states at the No. 2 seed and Southington, the CCC West regular season champs, are No. 4.

Middletown won its lone state title program history in 1992, in Class M, with a win over Seymour in the final.

Southington’s last defeat was a 4-1 setback at Cheshire on April 25. The Blue Dragons last defeat before Friday was a 6-2 loss to Bristol Eastern on April 26. The two CCC foes had not previously met this season.

Southington previously dispatched Conard and Enfield in the first two rounds of the CCC Tournament. Southington overcame a 2-3 start to the season to finish league play strong.

“All we were doing was trying to get better every day,” Hernandez said. “We’ve worked extremely hard on discipline. It helped us today. We were extremely disciplined at the plate.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *