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    Tuesday, April 23, 2024

    Waterford seniors hoping to finish their careers with a state title against Masuk

    Waterford's Maddie Burrows slides safely in at home plate past the tag of Ledyard catcher Paige Perkins (9) during the Class L state tournament second-round game June 1 at Waterford. The seventh-seeded Lancers will take on No. 1 Masuk in the state championship beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday at DeLuca Field in Stratford. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Waterford — Anna Donahue, who is set to attend Emmanuel College in Boston, and Emma Marelli, headed for Eastern Connecticut State University, already have plans for next season. They're going to take the train to Villanova to watch current teammate and fellow senior Maddie Burrows play softball for the Wildcats.

    "I can't wait to watch Villanova. Oh, my God, I'm so excited," Donahue said this week. "And when we're like 50, we're going to play in a women's league. We can't wait to coach our kids together."

    Waterford, 22-4 and seeded seventh, meets top-seeded Masuk on Saturday for the Class L championship beginning at 6 p.m. at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field in Stratford.

    Masuk (25-1), behind Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year Kat Gallant, has won the last three Class L titles, two pre-pandemic and one post-pandemic, while Waterford won the 2019 Class M title when these six seniors were freshmen. Masuk had a 36-game winning streak halted with a season-opening 2-0 loss to Fairfield Ludlowe.

    Waterford, which lost last year in the state tournament quarterfinals, certainly has the talent to reach this point once again, for what coach Andy Walker is calling "bookends" to the career of the seniors, state championship appearances in their first and final seasons.

    Burrows, in particular, is an all-state selection, Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament Most Outstanding Player and she pitched a no-hitter in the semifinals Monday night, an 8-0 win over No. 6 Avon. In that game, Donahue had a double, triple, two RBI and three runs scored, while junior Anna Dziecinny had a single, double, two-run homer and three RBI.

    Donahue's RBI triple in the top of the seventh was followed by Dziecinny's two-run homer to center, allowing the Lancers to break the game open against lightning fast Division I-bound pitcher Jackie Pengel.

    So, hard work, yes.

    But if you ask the Lancers the secret to reaching the final yet again, they're likely to talk more about their train tickets to Villanova than their talent.

    "I think our chemistry, our team chemistry," Donahue said. "Us girls playing together since we were 8. The energy and all of it, that helps us win. We work our butts off but the chemistry, if someone's down, we look at each other and it's back. We laugh at each other.

    "When we came in freshman year, us girls with the older girls, we had a rough year being the underclassmen. We came on to varsity and we got sat down. We got put in our place. I think what kept me through it was us. My best friends."

    Four of the starters from the 2019 state championship, Burrows, Donahue, Emma Marelli and Lily Marelli, remain. The other seniors on this team are Abby Maynard, now the Lancers' center fielder, and Tori Kiefer, another top hitter who missed the season with a torn ACL.

    Walker said their familial relationship is genuine.

    "They rally around each other," Walker said. "If you just look at a picture of a home run celebration, with any of the home run hitters coming into home plate, and you look at everyone's face, everyone is excited for that person that's coming in. That really epitomizes this team."

    Burrows is hitting .544 with 10 home runs, 38 RBI and 45 runs scored, with Emma Marelli and Donahue each at .405. Donahue has 34 RBI. As a team, the Lancers clobbered 21 home runs.

    They rotated comfortably through a number of batting stations at practice Thursday, music blaring in the background.

    On Monday, Pengel retired nine straight hitters before Burrows came to the plate for the second time and bunted for a base hit. Emma Marelli sacrificed her to second and the Lancers bunted a third time in the inning and six times overall, complementing their home run swings. Waterford led 1-0 after four innings and 2-0 after five before figuring things out.

    "The first round through the lineup, we just wanted to see what she was throwing, to see her pitches" Dziecinny said. "After that, it was just a matter of getting our hands through the zone since she's so fast. All of us have seen pitching like that from travel ball and stuff. After we figured it out, I think it was just the high energy that got us going."

    Gallant, also headed for Villanova, will be the opposing pitcher. Through the state quarterfinals for Masuk, Gallant, a 5-foot-10 right-hander, was 18-1 with a 0.72 earned run average and 267 strikeouts. She was batting .494 with five home runs and 34 RBI.

    "It feels so good to be here. We try not to think about it too much," Dziecinny said of the opponent. "Ranking and names can mean a lot but they also can mean nothing at the same time. I think this year, facing pitchers and really developed teams like that really prepared us for the state tournament."

    The Lancers played Fairfield Ludlowe this season, ranked No. 1 in the GameTimeCT state poll (8-4 loss), No. 4 Southington (4-1 loss) and No. 5 East Haven (9-1 win). Waterford was the seventh-ranked team in the poll headed to the state tournament.

    "When we finished last year, we were thinking of next year and where we wanted to be and it's right where we are," Walker said. "You don't know what you're going to get but you want to create a schedule that's going to allow them to be challenged throughout the season where every game is like, 'OK, we've got to get up, we've got to get ready to play' and every game is important."


    Waterford second baseman Anna Donahue makes a throw to first base during the Lancers' Class L second-round state tournament victory over Ledyard on June 1. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Waterford third baseman Emilia Podeszwa makes a throw to first against Fairfield Ludlowe on April 23. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Waterford's Sam San Juan and coach Andy Walker celebrate at third base after San Juan's RBI hit against Ledyard in a game June 1. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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