Waterford's Miller is the day's top dog, as Lancers edge Montville 2-0 in Class M softball
Montville — Andy Walker, Waterford High School's softball coach, can rile up his team in a huddle by talking about who the "big dog" was in a given game. Be the big dog, he tells them.
On Wednesday, sophomore pitcher Rachel Miller took over the role ... and just when the Lancers were on perhaps their biggest stage of the season in the second round of the Class M state tournament. Miller, ever-growing in confidence as the season has progressed, pitched a four-hitter with seven strikeouts as No. 26 Waterford blanked fellow Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II opponent Montville, the 10th seed, 2-0.
"She's had some really good outings this year. This was, I think, her best," Walker said. "That's a good Montville team. Given they blew us out last time (we were here).
"I think she's gaining confidence. She's starting to believe she's good enough to get people out."
Waterford (15-10) scored single runs in the second and the fourth, advancing to the Class M quarterfinals where they will play at 4 p.m. Friday at No. 2 North Branford.
In the second, Madison Nott singled, was sacrificed to second by Gina McKittrick and scored on a base hit by Ashlee Hancock. McKittrick teed off for a two-out triple over the left fielder's head in the fourth and scored when Hancock beat out an infield single. Nott and Hancock each had two hits.
Miller did the rest, with a little help on defense in the sixth. Alexis Michon reached on an infield single for Montville, originally an out call which was overruled, and Amanda Perkins followed with a base hit to put two on with one out.
Montville's Rori Curran then connected with a line drive to left field that was turned into the defensive play of the day by Riley Mazzella, who speared it and threw to second for the inning-ending double play.
"I told the girls the key to winning this game is if we can overcome adversity," Walker said. "In that situation, an overturned call, I went out to the mound and said, 'This is what I'm talking about.' Riley makes a shoestring catch and doubles up the girl and we get out of the inning."
"Last year I was an outfielder mostly," said Miller, whose cousin Erin is a former standout pitcher at Waterford and Eastern Connecticut State University. "This year I'm just pitching; I like it a lot. Each game I just get more and more confidence out there."
Miller said she worked the inside part of the plate against Montville (18-7), which defeated Waterford 16-4 the last time the teams met on May 1.
"We're playing good as a team," Miller said. "I'm really excited (for Friday)."
Michon, a sophomore, struck out nine and walked one for Montville. Perkins had two hits.
"In all honesty, more so than any other team we played, they positioned us well," Montville coach Derek Wainwright said of the Waterford defense. "We hit the ball on the spot and there's kids standing right there. I just looked at the book ... I don't think there was an error the entire game; there were plays made all over the place."
Wainwright pointed to the double play turned by Waterford's Mazzella.
"I'm standing on the third base coaching box and I'm waving the girl home," he said of Curran's shot to left. "I got (the runner) hung up a little bit."
Montville was 9-13 last season, doubling its win total this year with three freshmen in the starting lineup. Wainwright cited the team's improvement in its fundamentals from the beginning of the season.
"I've never been as proud of a group of kids," Wainwright said. "They've been coming back all year, two-out hits. I never quite expected the way we played. I couldn't have imagined this year going any better."
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