No. 1 Cromwell holds off No. 5 Old Lyme 3-1 in Class S softball semifinals
West Haven — Last time these teams played, in the semifinals of the Shoreline Conference tournament, Old Lyme won the game over higher-ranked Cromwell in the seventh inning.
And here were the Wildcats again Tuesday night, facing higher-ranked Cromwell, down two runs in the seventh and suddenly with runners on second and third base in their bid to reach their first state championship game.
Fifth-seeded Old Lyme came up short in this matchup, stranding the runners as it fell to No. 1 Cromwell 3-1 in the semifinals of the Class S state tournament at West Haven High School. Perhaps the Wildcats needed to start sooner this time around against the Panthers and pitcher Lily Kenney, who allowed them just two hits overall.
"That's kind of how it's been all this season," Old Lyme senior first baseman Victoria Gage said. "For some reason, we wait until the last possible moment to get things started. Usually it works out in our favor but tonight it didn't. But, you know, I'm really proud of the season we had.
"A couple of the seniors were talking and we were like, 'Wow.' Our first practice, we were saying we miss last year's team, but honestly, it was an honor to be a part of this team. ... Those girls helped me get my senior year of a dream."
The teams met three times previously, with Old Lyme (20-7) losing a pair of regular-season games against the Panthers, 6-0 and 9-1, but coming back with a victory over Cromwell in the Shoreline tournament semifinals, 3-1 on May 24.
Cromwell (22-3) advanced to meet another conference rival in No. 15 North Branford in the Class S championship game either Friday or Saturday at a site and time to be announced. North Branford beat No. 3 Coventry 4-2 in the first game of a semifinal doubleheader.
Cromwell scored all the runs it would need in the fourth inning when it took a 3-0 lead. With one out, Kenney doubled to left field and Victoria Wiatrak singled up the middle to drive her in. Wiatrak took second on an error and scored when the following batter, Grace McFarlin, singled, making it 2-0.
McFarlin took second on the throw back to the infield. With two outs, Stephanie Esposito walked and Sami Smith reached on an error that scored McFarlin with the third run.
Cromwell held on to the lead, too, with consecutive diving catches in the sixth, one by McFarlin, the left fielder, and one by Kenney on a bunt by Old Lyme leadoff hitter Ava Roth. Old Lyme sophomore pitcher Emma Bayor got out of a jam in the bottom of the sixth, with runners on second and third, to give the Wildcats one final at-bat.
In the seventh, Bayor led off with a walk and Jenna Schauder reached on an error to put two runners on. With two outs, Grace Phaneuf drilled a double into the gap in right-center field to score Bayor and put runners on second and third before Kenney retired Lauren Creagan on a tapper back to the mound for the final out.
Gage, who will play next season at Emerson, Creagan and Maddie Hubbard are graduating from this team, leaving six strong returning starters.
In addition to Phaneuf's double, No. 9 hitter Anna Eichholz had Old Lyme's only other hit, a single in the third. The Wildcats made three errors behind Bayor, who allowed six hits, three in the fourth, striking out 10 and walking one.
"You're not going to beat good teams if you don't hit the ball. We've been saying that every single game in the tournament," Old Lyme coach Tim Gavin said. "You gotta hit. We know we gotta hit against these good teams. We didn't hit. ... Lily's a good pitcher, she's the Pitcher of the Year (in the Shoreline Conference) for a reason. They were the better team today; there's no doubt."
Gavin said that now his team has been to the semifinals, that should be the standard at Old Lyme.
"This is the level of the program now," Gavin said. "We got here, so we want to get here every year. So you've got to raise your level of play. The goal would be to go one more further. That would be the goal, to get to the finals."