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Waterford, Ledyard stage comebacks to reach ECC Division I softball final

East Lyme — Waterford coach Andy Walker said he's not generally fond of these type of games, "where the emotions are flying all over the place."

"But I love the fact they came back the way they did and the determination they had," Walker said.

Maddie Burrows hit a three-run homer to spark a four-run sixth inning late Wednesday afternoon and Burrows struck out 15 as Waterford came back from a three-run deficit to edge Fitch 7-6 in the semifinals of the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I softball semifinals at Veterans Field. Second-seeded Waterford (17-4), the defending tournament champion, advanced to play No. 1 Ledyard (16-5) in the championship game at 7 p.m. Thursday at Griswold.

Ledyard also won via an emotional comeback, topping No. 4 Norwich Free Academy in the second semifinal of the night, 6-5, with four runs in the fifth including a go-ahead two-run double by Madi Miller and a two-run homer to left by Paige Perkins.

For Waterford, Burrows achieved the 100th hit of her career on the home run and eclipsed the 300-career strikeout mark in the game, as well, two milestones she was unaware of until Walker came into the postgame huddle with two commemorative softballs he had designed by the school's graphic arts department — "I thought it was better than having my handwriting on there," he said with a laugh.

Waterford trailed 6-3 with Burrows at the plate and two outs in the sixth, runners on first and second.

The teams, which split a pair of regular-season matchups, both took some time to talk things over with a 2-0 count on Burrows.

"I thought she was going to pitch around me because when they called time and we went out, Mr. Walker was like, 'She's probably going to pitch around you. She's already thrown two balls. If you see a good one drive it.'" Burrows said. "I took a few deep breathes. It was a big at-bat. I calmed myself down and I hit it. ... I just, like, sprinted around the bases."

Afterward, Walker launched into a long list of things Burrows does exceptionally well.

"She can do it all," Walker said. "You don't get players like that every day in your program. She can run the bases. She has 30 stolen bases. She can hit for power. She can hit for average. At shortstop, she's a vaccuum cleaner. She has a plus-arm wherever you put her. And she champions the successes of others more than herself."

Waterford took a 2-0 lead after three innings, scoring one in the first on an RBI single by Anna Dziecinny and one in the third on an RBI double by Anna Donahue, her second double of the game. Fitch, which had yet to get a hit off Burrows, struck for two runs in the fourth, tying the game, taking advantage of two walks and two errors.

Fitch scored two in the fifth on a two-run single to right by Maerin Lyon to make it 4-2 but Waterford got a run back in the bottom of the inning on a triple by Emma Marelli and a sacrifice fly by Donahue. With two outs in the sixth, Fitch's Fiona Taber drilled a two-run double over the head of the right fielder to add to the Falcons' lead.

"We got down twice. They were getting the timely hitting, unearned runs, too," Walker said. "When I brought them in after they went up 6-3, I said, 'OK, we got some work to do. Do you guys want to win this game?' And they were a resounding, 'Yes. Let's get it done right now.' And they certainly did."

In the bottom of the sixth, Waterford had two outs and pinch hitter Melanie Martin on first base when No. 9 hitter Abby Maynard drew a walk to get back to Burrows at the top of the order. Burrows responded with her first hit of the game, the three-run homer to right-center to tie the game at 6-6.

Lily Marelli was hit by a pitch, Emma Marelli reached on a fielder's choice, with all the runners rule safe, and Donahue hit a ground ball to third base which was overthrown to first, allowing one run to score. In the ensuing scramble, a second run appeared to score but Donahue was ruled to have interfered with the fielder on second base and the runner was sent back to third, making it 7-6.

The second game featured a similar comeback by Ledyard, which trailed 3-1 headed to the fifth.

Samantha Money and Aaliyah Amidon walked and Miller drilled a double over the head of the center fielder to score both runs, making it 3-3. Perkins' home run made it 5-3 and the Colonels added a run in the bottom of the sixth on a squeeze bunt by Teagan Lajoie. NFA scored twice in the seventh and had the tying run on second base before Amidon struck out the final batter for Ledyard's 10th straight win.

"That just got everyone so pumped up," Perkins said of Miller's game-tying double. "I just went up there thinking, 'I need to get Madi home and that can give us the game.' I never imagined hitting one at this field, the fence is so high. I missed it. Everyone said, 'That's out,' and I was like, 'OK.' I was running as fast as I could."

Both ECC softball finals will be Thursday at Griswold with the Division II game between No. 2 St. Bernard (13-6) and No. 1 Stonington (16-4) at 2 p.m.. In the Division II semifinals, St. Bernard defeated No. 3 Lyman Memorial 8-3 in the first game and Stonington topped No. 5 Montville 15-3.

v.fulkerson@theday.com 

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