Surprising Saints to play for Class S softball title

Stratford - Since the Class S softball state tournament pairings came out, St Bernard firmly believed it was better than its No. 20 seed.

It's hard to argue with the Saints after they continued their impressive postseason march on Tuesday.

Playing a solid all-around semifinal game, St. Bernard blanked No. 8 Canton, 8-0, at DeLuca Field to advance to the state championship game for the second time in three years.

The Saints (15-9) will play No. 2 Coginchaug of Durham (19-4) on Friday at 7 p.m. at West Haven High School.

After enduring a bumpy stretch during the regular season, the Saints are playing their best softball.

"I know we're all fighting so hard for this and we all want it so badly," said senior Rivkah Berkman, who scattered six hits while pitching a complete game. "It just feels right to make it this far.

"We're not a 20 seed. Our coach (Jeff Mauri) just told us in the huddle that we don't play like a 20 seed. We're one of the best teams out there now."

Mauri has had faith in his team's ability and potential since early in the season, even when St. Bernard started out with a 7-8 record.

The Saints rebounded, winning eight of their last nine games.

"We said if we get it right, we have a shot this year," Mauri said. "We knew how good this team was. The girls didn't know how good they were."

The players certainly know now after winning four straight tournament games with a lethal combination of stellar defense, timely hitting and terrific pitching.

All three were on display on Tuesday.

Sophomore left fielder Kiely Smith made a nifty running catch to record the first Canton out of the game. She added another gem later on.

Junior Mena Buscetto jump-started the offense with a leadoff double in the fourth inning. An error and freshman Shoshana Berkman's two-out single handed the Saints a 2-0 lead.

St. Bernard extended the lead to 5-0 with three runs in the fifth. Rivkah Berkman's bunt and an error led to two runs and sophomore Gretchen Greene added a two-out RBI single. The Saints scored a run in the sixth and two more in the seventh.

Seven different Saints contributed hits, including two apiece from Buscetto, freshman Amanda Carpentier and senior Melissa Halloran. The latter two also each had an RBI.

Rivkah Berkman pitched her best whenever Canton, which had runners on base in all but one inning, threatened.

Take the fourth.

With St. Bernard leading 2-0, Canton loaded the bases with two outs. But Berkman retired Olivia Bonini on a groundout to end the inning.

"I was kind of shaken up with the bases loaded and knew I had to get that out," Berkman said. "It was huge. I just kept focused and I did it."

Now the Saints will be playing for the program's first state title.

Three players - Buscetto, Halloran and senior Tara Kowalski - still remain from the 2010 team that reached the championship game and lost 2-0 Terryville.

"It just brings back so many memories," Buscetto said. "I'm so happy that they're all going to get to experience that state championship feeling."

"... We just need to go in with the same mentality that we've been going in with in every single game of the state tournament. We've all been playing together. We've all been pumped up days before. We're really working as a team."

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