Clutch play carries Milford to District 4 championship
MILFORD — Haley Stroffolino is pleased to be a member of the Milford All Star team. Toward that end, she made a pair of outstanding plays in center field and smacked a two-run single to plate the eventual winning run when Milford defeated North Branford, 5-3, in the District 4 Little League championship game at Foote Field on Friday.
"I'm grateful to be on this team," Stroffolino said. "It is an honor to have a chance to go out there and play my best. It is a big job to play center. There is a lot of room to cover and I have to get to any ball I can. When I came up (in the fifth), I was nervous because it was a one-run game. I put that all behind me and looked to get my bat on the ball."
The No. 9 batter in the lineup, Stroffolino stepped into the batter's box with two down and the bases loaded and drilled a two-run single. Teagan Garfield added an RBI hit to stake Milford to a 5-1 lead.
"Against North Branford, you need every run,"Milford manager Scott Worzel said. "They scratch and claw and were up at the (dugout) fence battling until the last out."
Natalia Lucibello's led off North Branford's sixth with a single to left, the fourth hit off Milford starter Madison Bull. When Lexi Falcioni drew a walk, Milford brought Talia Salanto in from shortstop to defuse the rally. She got a force out on a comebacker to the circle, but an errant throw to get another out resulted in two runs crossing the plate.
Milford catcher Mya Dawid made a fine catch on a pop up for the second out, but North Branford had some two out magic of its own. Kiley Mullins walked to put the tying run on base. Salanto reached back and earned a strikeout to send Milford to the Sectional Tournament that opens in Orange Sunday with a 7 p.m. game with Wilton from District 1.
North Branford and Milford were the two best teams, and brought 5-1 pool records into the title game. North Branford took the first meeting 3-0; Milford the second 4-2.
"Summer is a different brand of softball," North Branford manager Chris Hills said. "These girls gave us a 100 percent commitment and we appreciate it. We worked every day, fielding hundreds of ground balls and catching hundreds of fly balls, to get them ready for Districts and for the next level of play. They were fully engaged and in the bottom of the sixth we had the go-ahead run at the plate. They picked each other up."
Neither team showed off its best defense in the first inning.
North Branford took a 1-0 lead on Lucibello's RBI single after a pair of errors on Lindsey Onofrio's drive put her on third base.
Milford had a chance to get that run back, and more, in the bottom of the inning. Three errors, two on one play, put runners on base. Falcioni at first made an outstanding catch on a foul pop by the fence. Gabi Senerchia then went to her right on a grounder toward the bag and threw out the runner from her second base position.
Stroffolino robbed Adriana Hills on a base-clearing extra base hit with a running catch in right-center field to end the second.
"Haley worked very hard to make this team," Worzel said, "It was very competitive and we had a lot of talented players try out. We are very happy to have her."
While Bull set down North Branford in the middle two innings, with Stroffolino making another catch in the alley and Garfield going behind first base to catch a challenging fly ball, Mullins stranded two Milford runners in the second.
Salanto singled with one out in the third, stole two bases, and scored on Dawid's double to left field. Mullins notched a strikeout, before Mulvihill doubled to right center to give her team a 2-1 lead. A fine play by Leah Pinette in center halted the rally.
Grace Hess and Avery Falco singled to get Milford's three-run rally going in the fifth.
"Two-out hitting was huge," Worzel said. "The bottom of our lineup hit the ball well, getting us back to the top of the batting order. Teagan Mulvihill had a two-out double to give up the lead (in the third) and then Haley came through."
MILFORD 5, NORTH BRANFORD 3
North Branford 100 002 - 3-4-5
Milford 002 03x - 5-9-4
Batteries: North Branford- Kiley Mullin (LP), Reece Hebert (5) and Adriana Hills; Milford- Madison Bull (WP), Talia Salanto (6) and Mya Dawid
Records: North Branford 5-2, Milford 6-1