Vikings have the final say

East Lyme pitcher Erica Hill celebrates after beating Waterford 7-6 in the Eastern Connecticut Conference softball tournament championship game Sunday at Griswold. The Vikings rallied from a 5-0 deficit for the win.
East Lyme pitcher Erica Hill celebrates after beating Waterford 7-6 in the Eastern Connecticut Conference softball tournament championship game Sunday at Griswold. The Vikings rallied from a 5-0 deficit for the win. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Griswold - By the time East Lyme's Samantha Horner got to second base in the sixth inning Sunday night, having just driven in the tying run with a resounding double to left field, she had tears in her eyes.

The second-seeded Vikings, having come through a topsy-turvy week of rain-related issues, including the cancelation of the title game for a brief time Saturday morning before a date could be agreed upon by both parties, then trailed No. 4 Waterford 5-0 after two and a half innings of the final.

East Lyme came back to win 7-6, getting the RBI double from Horner and a sacrifice fly by Morgan Lloyd one batter later to score the winning run. Erica Hill pitched the top of the seventh, allowing a two-out single to Waterford's Jaime Dahl before getting a popup for the final out.

"I was nervous. I usually don't swing at the first pitch," Horner said. "But I did. I was crying a little bit when I got to second. It felt so good to be able to hit with power. We were definitely due, as a team, as a town."

"I feel like I'm floating," said Hill, a junior who transformed herself in time to inherit the starting pitcher's role this season and earned all-conference honors prior to the game. "I feel like I could walk on the clouds. It feels great. I think it was unexpected for us."

If it wasn't unexpected before for East Lyme (21-2), playing in its first title game since 2005, it certainly was after Waterford, the four-time defending tournament champ, batted in the top of the third.

The Lancers (17-6) scored three times on two infield singles, a hit batter, an error and one, solid two-run single to left by Elaina Sullivan to make it 5-0 in their favor.

But East Lyme's Madison Horner led off the bottom of the third with a home run over the left field fence off Waterford pitcher Megan Spellman, who allowed just three hits in the previous two games.

Kaylie Crosby followed with an infield single and Samantha Horner singled to left, putting runners on second and third when Horner took an extra base on the throw to third. Lloyd struck out but reached on a passed ball which scored Crosby and Lloyd took second on the play, keeping runners at second and third.

After an out, Sydney Swanson grounded out to third base, scoring Horner to pull the Vikings within 5-3.

"The home run gave us a little momentum," Samantha Horner said. "Everyone was up, no one was getting down. It was mental, it gave us the idea like, 'We got this. It's not impossible.'"

"There's a lot of kids on this team that never give up," East Lyme coach Judy Deeb said. "They calm everybody down. Like (Madison Horner). She takes the lead. Everybody jumps on her back."

Waterford scored a run in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Talia Rickerson, but East Lyme crept ever closer with two runs in the fifth. The Vikings got a pair of two-out walks, followed by an RBI single to center by Sarah Bond which scored pinch runner Nicole Lee. On the same play, when Bond's hit was bobbled slightly, Deeb sent courtesy runner Brooke Soderberg home, as well, to make it 6-5.

Then, with one out in the sixth, Madison Horner reached on a single to shortstop and Crosby reached on an error, setting up Samantha Horner, who wasted no time in tying the score. Lloyd then drove in Crosby with a fly ball to center for the winning run.

Hill came on in relief of starter Meghan Welch to start the fifth and pitched three scoreless innings for the win.

Waterford coach Liz Sutman described her team as "panicky."

"We weren't making the plays. We were looking ahead but we weren't making the play," said Sutman, whose team shared the Large Division title with East Lyme during the regular season. "It was common things we work on every day in practice; that's stuff we usually do really well, we have always done really well."

The final almost wasn't played. Because East Lyme had to continue its suspended semifinal with Griswold on Friday, the championship was pushed to Saturday morning. When that was rained out, the teams couldn't agree on a makeup date.

With the state tournament looming, the game was initially canceled by the league and the teams declared co-champions. The decision was reversed about an hour later when Sunday's date was announced.

"This was a big disappointment, but I'd rather take a loss than be co-champs any day," Sutman said. "This was the right thing to do."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Kaylie Crosby of East Lyme, right, scores on a passed ball in Sunday's ECC softball tournament championship game at Griswold High School. Waterford pitcher Megan Spellman waits for the throw. East Lyme won 7-6.
Kaylie Crosby of East Lyme, right, scores on a passed ball in Sunday's ECC softball tournament championship game at Griswold High School. Waterford pitcher Megan Spellman waits for the throw. East Lyme won 7-6. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo
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