Lancers slip by the Bears

Elaina Sullivan of Waterford, right, is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run in the sixth inning of Wednesday's softball game against Stonington. Waterford won the ECC Medium Division game 1-0.

Stonington — Both coaches mentioned that the game was decided by one pitch.

Stonington's one pitch, a ball rifled by No. 3 hitter Rhianna Maynard to right field with the bases loaded in the fifth inning Tuesday, was caught by outfielder Karena Bushey as it was sinking to her shoetops.

Waterford's one pitch, an RBI triple in the sixth inning by Megan Elphick, sailed past the Stonington outfield to score Elaina Sullivan with the game's only run.

Waterford, playing its third Eastern Connecticut Conference Medium Division game in as many days and its fourth in the last six days, topped Stonington 1-0 on an emotional afternoon in which the teams not only brought out the best in each other in terms of sportsmanship with a "Play-4-the-Cure" fundraiser to fight cancer, but on the field.

"We made plays we didn't before. We didn't have that letdown inning," Waterford coach Liz Sutman said. "I've not seen that from this team before. The girls didn't take a second off from this game.

"They're drained emotionally."

Waterford (8-4, 5-1) is also in a tie for first place in the Medium Division with Griswold at one loss apiece, knocking Stonington (8-4, 3-2) to a game off the pace.

Left-handed pitcher Tori VanCleave struck out 11 and walked four in the victory, allowing four Stonington hits, three in the fifth. Stonington counterpart Theresa Kane pitched a three-hitter with six strikeouts and six walks.

"This was a crucial game. This was redemption," VanCleave said, referring to Waterford's 4-2 loss earlier in the season to Stonington. "I had to focus on my spots, to be honest. We wanted to do better than we did before. Last time, we didn't play to our potential."

Waterford went on the road Monday to beat Plainfield 4-2 and Tuesday to win at Killingly 16-1. The Lancers traveled again to meet Stonington on Wednesday.

Waterford was 1-3 to start the season before winning seven of its last eight behind the pitching combination of VanCleave and Kazi Walker.

On Tuesday against Killingly, Elphick homered twice, both of which would have cleared a fence if there was one, Sutman said. The Lancers' No. 6 hitter, Elphick continued her hitting streak Wednesday with the game-winning hit.

Sullivan started the inning with a bloop single over the middle and Sarah Pacheco moved her up a base with a sacrifice bunt. Elphick followed with the triple to center field - resulting in a leap of joy by Sutman in the third base coach's box - before Kane struck out the final two batters to retire the side.

Stonington's best chance to score, meanwhile, came in the fifth. Abby Blanchard, Emma Miller and Mallory Kane singled to the load the bases for Maynard, whose sinking line drive appeared to be trouble for Waterford before Bushey's catch.

"You have no idea," VanCleave said of what Bushey's catch meant to her. "Karena did such a good job. ... We're getting better and better. That's what we want. We want to prove not everyone's going to beat us."

Stonington, meanwhile, lost its third straight game. But compared to Monday's 10-1 loss to Griswold, this one felt different, Bears' coach Ann-Marie Houle said.

"Nothing's ever a good loss," Houle said. "But we performed against a good team. The Griswold game was not good. We're trying to get them used to playing on a big stage. You might have heard me yelling, 'Be big.' Nothing gets bigger than this.

"We're young and this is a good introduction for them to understand the bigness."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

Hannah Swanson of Waterford (5) steals second base in the seventh inning of Wednesday's ECC softball game as Stonington shortstop Jessica Connor waits for the throw. Waterford won 1-0.
Hannah Swanson of Waterford (5) steals second base in the seventh inning of Wednesday's ECC softball game as Stonington shortstop Jessica Connor waits for the throw. Waterford won 1-0.

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