Little League 11-12 stars win state title, earn trip to regional

Griswold - Waterford South reserves a special ritual for big victories, celebrating by lying down in a circle on the pitcher's mound and shouting a cheer.

The players broke it out Tuesday.

Playing perhaps its best game during tournament season, Waterford South clinched the Connecticut Little League (11-12) softball championship with an impressive 7-1 victory over Orange in the deciding game of the best-of-three series at the Jewett City Little League complex.

Let the ritual begin.

"We always do that if we win an important game," said Tori VanCleave who danced in and out of trouble on the way to pitching a one-hitter. "That was the most important win that we've had."

Waterford South showed grit and determination by fighting back to clinch a trip to the East Regional in Albany, N.Y., The District 10 champions lost the first game of the state championship series 14-13, then began the comeback Monday with a 10-2 victory.

Never trailing Tuesday, Waterford seized the lead for good with two runs in the third and busted it open with three in the fifth for a 6-1 edge.

"Sometimes it might look easy but it's hard," manager Scott Reagan said. "I give hats off to Orange. … I'm just happy for this group of girls. … These kids are resilient and they have faith in each other.

"I just love watching them play."

Reagan made a trip to the mound in the sixth with two outs and the bases loaded on walks. Waterford South lost game one allowing six runs in the bottom of the sixth.

His advice: just relax.

VanCleave, who struck out seven and walked eight, responded, striking out Cassidy Kirby for the last out. She hugged catcher Sarah Pacheco in front of home plate to kick off the celebration.

"It was a relief more than anything else," VanCleave said of her emotions after the final out. "I wanted to get it over with."

Waterford's potent offense kept the pressure on as it had done in the previous two games when it scored a combined 23 runs.

Nine different players combined for 11 hits, including Jodi Weiss who singled, tripled and had an RBI.

Reagan took his players to the Griswold High School batting cage prior to each game.

"They hit enough just to loosen up," Reagan said.

VanCleave supplied the damaging blow in the third, doubling in a run with two outs to make it 2-0. Amy Virga's triple - one of five hits in a three-run fifth inning, increased the lead to three. Margaret Reagan also tripled and Ashley Nowak added an RBI single for a 6-1 advantage.

Waterford South also played sparkling defense, going without an error.

The championship victory was especially sweet considering this group had lost in the state finals as 10-year-olds.

"We wanted to redeem ourselves," VanCleave said. "We were really excited that we did."

But VanCleave added it took some luck to accomplish the feat.

Maybe the good luck charm came in the form of the stylish Reagan's hair color. He dyed it red for Tuesday's game a day after he wore blue for the previous victory.

No word yet on Reagan's color of choice for Saturday's regional tournament opener in Albany.

"We're probably going to make him do both (colors)," VanCleave said.

g.keefe@theday.com

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