Burrows, freshman Kenney spark Waterford to ECC Division I softball title
Griswold — Andy Walker could only watch the day before as Maddie Burrows' pitch count rose skyward to 166, with the thought actually occurring to the Waterford High School softball coach to call for relief for his all-state ace.
Burrows finished the comeback victory in the semifinals of the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I softball tournament in Niantic, but that meant that Thursday when the tournament headed north for the championship game, Walker needed to rely on someone other than Burrows to take the mound against top-seeded Ledyard.
Welcome to the spotlight, freshman Brie Kenney.
Burrows homered on the first pitch of the game and Kenney pitched a two-hitter through 6.1 innings as No. 2 Waterford won its second straight ECC title with a 7-2 victory over Ledyard at Griswold High School. The game was a rematch of last year's title game, which Waterford won 8-1.
"I have tremendous confidence," said Walker, who decided to throw the freshman Kenney on Wednesday night before he went to sleep, then wrestled with it again Thursday morning. "I know she competes. She's not afraid to compete. I told her, 'You're going to win this game.'"
"I was surprised. I'm a freshman and we have tons of pitchers that are really good," Kenney said of drawing the start. "I was nervous at first. But I trust my defense behind me. They have my back. I know a lot of the Ledyard players from travel ball and also (catcher) Emma (Marelli) helped me out. I'm really happy. I'm glad I pitched a great game."
Waterford (18-4) scored two runs in the first inning before Kenney tossed her first pitch. Burrows' home run, her second in as many games, was followed by one-out walks to Emma Marelli and Anna Donahue. With two outs, No. 6 hitter Lexi Collins singled between shortstop and third base to score Marelli for the 2-0 lead.
The Lancers added two runs in the third, with a double by Donahue, another RBI single and a stolen base by Collins and a base hit by Melanie Martin to drive in Collins. Lily Marelli had an RBI double in the fourth to drive in Burrows, who walked, making it 5-0. Burrows scored again in the sixth on an RBI single by Emma Marelli to push it to 6-0.
Burrows, in fact, drew three bases on balls after her home run, one intentionally, stealing second base and sliding in head first all three times, scoring twice, as she got the opportunity to be a shortstop for the night. Burrows came on to pitch to the final two Ledyard hitters and, for her overall performance over the two-day span, earned the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honors. Meanwhile Kenney, 5-0 this season, lowered her earned run average to 0.76.
The Waterford victory broke a 10-game winning streak for Ledyard (16-6), which beat Norwich Free Academy 6-5 in the semifinals Wednesday, getting a two-run homer in that game from senior catcher Paige Perkins. Against Waterford, Ledyard managed singles by Samantha Money in the third and Maddie Gauthier in the sixth.
Gauthier's hit, a chop in front of the plate, sparked a two-run rally for the Colonels. Money reached on a fielder's choice and Aaliyah Amidon got on base on an error. Madi Miller bunted and also reached on an error, scoring Money, and Amidon scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-2. Waterford scored an insurance run in the seventh when Anna Dziecinny singled and scored.
"Our bats have been doing pretty well for the last few games," Ledyard coach Stephen Smith said. "We couldn't connect tonight and when we did, we hit it right at someone. Whether we're facing the girl that pitched tonight or Maddie, we need to come ready to hit. ... We got a little better, a little better, a little better (this season). The last four or five games we started clicking. We've been playing pretty well, but not well enough tonight to beat a really good team."
Walker said he likes the defensive configuration of the Lancers when Kenney pitches, with Burrows at short, regular shortstop Dziecinny at first and first baseman Lily Marelli in center field.
"With (Kenney) pitching, that makes our defense that much stronger," he said.