NFA beats Cheshire 4-2 and advances to Class LL softball final

Stratford — Sophia DiCocco was Norwich Free Academy's pitcher in waiting for next season, perfectly happy playing left field Monday night behind all-state pitcher Bailey Comeau in the semifinals of the Class LL state softball tournament at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field.

And then suddenly, with NFA leading 4-1 going to the bottom of the fifth inning, on a two-run single by Comeau, no less, there was Comeau exiting the game after being hit in her pitching arm with a line drive.

And there was DiCocco, the junior left-hander, on the pitcher's mound.

DiCocco was the savior for No. 8 NFA, pitching the final three innings in a 4-2 victory over No. 4 Cheshire which landed the jubilant Wildcats in the state championship game. NFA will meet No. 6 Southington in the final either Friday or Saturday after Southington topped No. 2 Trumbull 5-1 in the first game of the semifinal doubleheader.

"I didn't expect it, but I was ready to go, I was confident," said DiCocco, who allowed two hits, striking out two and walking none. "I've been working for this moment. ... I think my strengths are if a batter gets a hit, I can quickly collect myself."

The outcome ended a 10-game winning streak for Cheshire (23-4), which had beaten NFA in the Class LL tournament in three of the last four seasons.

NFA led last year's quarterfinal game against Cheshire 6-2 in the sixth inning before falling 7-6. The Rams also knocked out the Wildcats in 2015 (semifinals) and 2016 (quarters).

NFA, the ECC Division I regular-season and tournament champion, is 21-4, headed to its first state championship game since 2007. The Wildcats, under 11th-year head coach Bryan Burdick, will be vying for their first title in program history.

"This is my proudest moment of any team I've ever coached," Burdick said. "I thought it was Friday (2-1 win over top-seeded South Windsor), but that just set us up for an even prouder moment. ... It was a huge stage."

Cheshire struck first in the bottom of the third inning on a one-out homer to right field by Providence College-bound Mia Juodaitis. NFA came back with a run in the top of the fourth, however, on an RBI single by DiCocco to tie it.

In the fourth, Sara Cote reached on a one-out seeing-eye single between shortstop and third base and with two outs, Brooke Gottshall drew a walk. DiCocco responded with a tapper up the middle to score Cote from second.

That served to ignite the NFA offense, which to that point had only one hit against Cheshire sophomore pitcher Bri Pearson.

NFA came back with three in the fifth to take a 4-1 lead. Hannah Daniewicz led off the inning with a single up the middle and Alex Burdick laid down a sacrifice bunt, reaching on an errant throw to first by Pearson which put runners on second and third with nobody out.

Hailee Schrader grounded out to second base, scoring Daniewicz for a 2-1 lead and Julie Vincent followed with a single to left. Pearson retired Cote, getting a strikeout on an offspeed pitch, but Vincent took second on the play, bringing Comeau to the plate. Comeau's two-run single made it 4-1, just moments before she was forced to leave the game.

DiCocco retired the side in order in the seventh inning, including a groundout by Juodaitis, who led off the inning.

Said DiCocco: "It feels great because they've been the ones that knocked us out (before)."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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