Shoreline foes North Branford, Cromwell to meet in Class S softball final

Members of the Cromwell softball team celebrate after defeating Old Lyme 3-1 in the CIAC Class S tournament in West Haven Tuesday.

Members of the Cromwell softball team celebrate after defeating Old Lyme 3-1 in the CIAC Class S tournament in West Haven Tuesday.

Mike Madera / For Hearst Connecticut Media

WEST HAVEN — It is not often a team is being no-hit and finds itself in the lead in the final inning. It is even rarer to happen in the postseason.

While that was the position 15th-seeded North Branford found itself in, it was far from defining how the contest would play out.

Playing small ball and taking advantage of five Coventry errors, North Branford topped third-seeded Coventry 4-2 in the Class S semifinals at Biondi Field in West Haven Tuesday afternoon.

With the win, the Thunderbirds advance to their second straight state title game and will play top-seeded Cromwell, a 3-1 winner over Old Lyme in the nightcap, at a site, time and date to be determined. Both finalists are members of the Shoreline Conference.

“The young kids have been great,” North Branford coach Nicolas Delizio said after his team improved to 20-7. “We are very young. We have five seniors on the team, one junior, and everybody else is freshmen or sophomores. To have that experience carry over from last year has been huge.

“The girls were hungry. At the end of last season, obviously losing the state championship game, really motivated these girls to work hard in the offseason and get their minds reset right. That’s been their goal. They’re hungry. To get back there is huge for the program and huge for the testament and desire and dedication they have for the program. The ball is in their court. It’s fun. I’m just along for the ride.”

North Branford, which lost to Seymour in last year’s Class M final and is 0-3 in state finals in program history, did not have a hit until Lauren Ackerman doubled to center with one out in the seventh. Fortunately for the Thunderbirds, Coventry’s defense played a big role as the Patriots committed five errorsand helped aid North Branford in a 4-run fifth.

Trailing 1-0, North Branford took control of the game when Tessa Juniver led off the fifth with a walk and moved to third when Gabrielle Senerchia’s sacrifice attempt was thrown away. After a stolen base by Senerchia, Ackerman grounded to short where Juniver scored to even the game and put a pair of runners on with no one out.

“That is something we have been working on the last few weeks,” Delizio said of the team’s small ball. “We always have that in our arsenal, just in case our bats are a little slow to show up. Putting pressure on and executing. Execution is the big thing we talk about. Today we did a great job. Obviously, there is timely hitting. It is not just bunting the ball in play. You have to put it in certain spots too.”

Alexa Falcioni attempted another sacrifice, but the ball was thrown away, allowing Senerchia and Ackerman to score for a 3-1 lead. When Lindsey Onofrio’s bunt scored Falcioni, North Branford led 4-1 without the benefit of a hit.

“Honestly, without our mistakes, we win that game,” Coventry coach Jeff Lahouse said after his team closed the season at 19-5. “That’s the lesson. You can’t make the mistakes. We have a young team. We have been really clean, but it just kind of poked its way through at a bad time.”

While North Branford was capitalizing on Coventry’s miscues, sophomore pitcher Kiley Mullins was keeping Coventry off the scoreboard. Mullins allowed just four hits and struck out eight in the game and was at her best with runners on base.

After Coventry’s Elizabeth Mitchell bunted to score Julia Boya in the first, Mullins got a ground out and a pop up to end the frame without further damage.

Coventry had a pair of runners in scoring position in the second with one out, but Mullins ended the frame and the threat with a pair of strikeouts.

“I think it means a lot to the program because we left last year a little disappointed,” Mullins said of the team playing in its second straight state title game. “We have a chance to go back this year with a really strong team. I think the momentum coming, not only from these games, but from last year as well, is something that is going to fire us up for this year.”

A pair of walks put two on with one out for Coventry in the third, but Mullins was again on her game as she got a pop out and a strike out to end the inning.

When Mullins needed a hand, the North Branford defense was there to provide it, especially in the bottom of the sixth.

Coventry’s Sarah Miller hit a one-out single and Sydney DeLuca followed with a two-out walk. Amy Prior singled to right to score Miller, but DeLuca was thrown out at the plate for the final out of the inning.

“Our defense was awesome,” Mullins said. “They made some really nice catches out there. That play at home in the second to last inning had our momentum going into the seventh inning.”

Mitchell allowed just one hit and struck out six in the loss for Coventry.


Kiley Mullins, North Branford: Sophomore pitched a complete-game 4-hitter, striking out 8 to help the Thunderbirds return to the state title game for the second straight season.


“Even at the end, I told them to make sure you take it all in while you are here. Don’t just become blind to the game. Play the game, but enjoy the opportunity that a lot of other teams didn’t make it to.”

— Coventry coach Jeff Lahouse

In the nightcap, top-seeded Cromwell rode the pitching of junior Lily Kenney and capitalized on sloppy play by fifth-seeded Old Lyme to advance to the finals with a 3-1 victory at Biondi Field.

Kenney was on her game from the start, never allowing more than one runner on base in an inning until Old Lyme scored in the seventh. The junior struck out 10 as Cromwell advanced to the program’s first state title appearance and avenged a loss to the Wildcats in the Shoreline Conference tournament.

“It was just like the last time we played them,” Kenney said. “I wanted to be better than last time and I wanted to finish what I couldn’t finish the last time we played them.

“I really worked hard for this game. Every pitch was working, and I was hitting every spot. I was communicating with my catcher. She called all the right pitches.”

With the game scoreless after three innings, Cromwell scored the only runs it would need in the fourth, capitalizing on a pair of Old Lyme errors.

With one out, Kenney doubled to left and scored on a single to center by Victoria Wiatrak, who moved to second on an error on the play. Grace McFarlin followed with a single to left to score Wiatrak.

Following a walk to Stephanie Esposito to put a pair of runners on, Samantha Smith reached on another error by the Wildcats to score McFarlin for a 3-0 advantage.

“She is fantastic,” Cromwell coach Angelo Morello said of Kenney after his team improved to 22-3. “Unfortunately, in 2019 COVID hit and she lost her freshman year. She makes the difference. We are 22-3 this year. The kid on the mound has 36 wins in two years. It is all the kids, but she plays a big part. We play defense behind her. That is a lot of success.”

The rest was up to Kenney and the Cromwell defense, which did not disappoint, especially in the sixth when both McFarlin in left and Kenney in the circle made diving plays to record outs.

Old Lyme (20-7) did not go down quietly, putting the tying runs on base in the seventh. Old Lyme pitcher Emma Bayor led off with a walk, moved to third when Jenna Schauder reached on an error, and scored on Grace Phaneuf’s two-out double.

With a pair in scoring position, Kenney got the final out on a grounder which she fielded and threw to first to send Cromwell to the title game.

“They are a great team,” Morello said of Old Lyme. “They are a bunch of cardiac kids over there. They just don’t give up. That’s why I thought a fourth or fifth run would have been great. We held on.”

Bayor pitched well, allowing just five hits and striking out ten in the loss.

The Shoreline Conference battle for the state title will now see North Branford looking to avenge a pair of shutout losses in the regular season to the Panthers.


Lily Kenney, Cromwell: Junior pitched a complete-game two-hitter, striking out 10 and playing stellar defense.


“This was a little redemption. We knew we were winning. We weren’t taking a loss as an option. We are excited to play North Branford.”

— Cromwell’s Lily Kenney on topping Old Lyme after Old Lyme eliminated Cromwell from the Shoreline Conference tournament.


NORTH BRANFORD000 040 0 — 4 1 1

COVENTRY100 001 0 — 2 4 5

N: Kiley Mullins (W) and Adriana Hills; C: Elizabeth Mitchell (L) and Remington Casida; 2B: (N) Lauren Ackerman

Records: North Branford 20-7; Coventry 19-5


OLD LYME000 000 1 — 1 2 3

CROMWELL000 300 0 — 3 5 3

O: Emma Bayor (L) and Grace Phaneuf; C: Lily Kenney (W) and Victoria Wiatrak; 2B: (OL): Grace Phaneuf ( C ) Lilly Kenney, Grace McFarlin

Records: Old Lyme 20-7; Cromwell 22-2