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    Thursday, July 25, 2024

    Kenney up to the challenge again as Waterford defeats NFA to win ECC Div. I softball crown

    Griswold — In last season’s Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I championship game, Brielle Kenney, then a freshman, was the surprise starting pitcher for Waterford High School and responded with 6.1 innings of two-hit softball.

    And then Thursday, Kenney was on the mound again for the top-seeded Lancers in a fast-paced 3-1 victory over No. 2 Norwich Free Academy.

    Her teammates swarmed Kenney in celebration when she was announced as the game’s Most Outstanding Player, pitching Waterford to its third straight ECC title.

    “She’s an absolute gamer,” Waterford coach Andy Walker said. “And you know what? She’s pitched against the best teams in the state this year and that has only made her tougher on the mound. I knew she was going to compete tonight. I knew it was going to be a low-scoring game.”

    Kenney was stingy, allowing one run on six hits. After NFA scored a run in the second inning on three hits, Kenney shut the Wildcats down for the remainder of the game, retiring the side in order three times and allowing just one runner to reach scoring position.

    “I loved that,” Kenney said of her team’s reaction to the Most Outstanding Player announcement. “It gives me good confidence about the mound.

    “I have confidence in my catcher, my coaches; with all their confidence in me, that’s why I’m the player I am today. ... This is always a good feeling. I love coming out here, pitching my all and having my team to back me up and cheering me on. That’s the best feeling I could ever have.”

    Waterford took the lead with two runs in the fourth inning. Charlotte Jessuck led off with an infield single and Grace Muti reached on an error. Anna Dziecinny followed with a single to left to tie the game at 1-1 and Melanie Martin hit a slow roller up the middle which also went for an infield single.

    The next hitter, Ava Waddington hit a ball which blooped untouched in the outfield. Unable to tell whether the ball would be caught, however, the runner was forced at second, tagging Waddington with a fielder’s choice, but it was a productive one as Muti raced home for the 2-1 lead.

    Waterford (15-7) added an insurance run in the sixth when Jessuck reached on an error and eventually scored on an RBI groundout by Dziecinny.

    NFA (16-6) advanced to the championship game with a 4-3 semifinal win over No. 3 Fitch earlier in the day, a game postponed from Wednesday night due to the threat of rain. Emma McAvoy homered in the first inning and the Wildcats scored three in the sixth to beat the Falcons.

    Hailey Smith earned the win in the opener, giving Jillian Dykema the start in the final six hour later. Dykema allowed just four Waterford hits.

    “In between games, we kind of just had some team bonding,” NFA coach Athena Jaskiewicz said of the Wildcats’ extended stay in Griswold. “We had lunch. We hung out. It was a long time to sit. Most of my kids are used to playing doubleheaders; they play a lot of doubleheaders over the summer.

    “This is big time, under the lights, the ECC championship game. I have a lot of young kids. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re in a big game like that, you start to press a little bit. But you know what? I’m incredibly proud of our team. We’re one step further than we were last year and that’s the direction we want to go in. They don’t back down. They don’t give up.”

    v.fulkerson@theday.com

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