Waterford - The first day of June was much nicer to the Waterford High School this time around.
The Lancers, who a year ago to the day saw their season end prematurely, took care of business Friday with a 6-1 win over Northwestern Regional of Winsted in the quarterfinals of the CIAC Class M softball tournament.
Second-seeded Waterford (24-1) opened tournament play Wednesday with a 3-2, eight-inning win over No. 18 North Branford, much better than its loss to Stonington in the second round last year which cast a pall over a 22-2 season.
"We've been fortunate to have had so many close games the last few weeks,'' said Waterford coach Liz Sutman. "We've had to execute, we've had to come from behind. And having that last game rekindled something for us.''
Waterford plays the winner of today's quarterfinal between No. 3 Granby and No. 11 Griswold - weather permitting - either Monday or Tuesday at a neutral site.
"The (North Branford) game made us realize that we need to fight no matter who we are playing,'' said Waterford shortstop Alyssa Hancock.
Having Kelli Connors helps, too.
The senior pitched a four-hitter for her 20th win of the season against one loss, striking out 12 with two walks. She only made one mistake all day, but more on that later.
"She's very talented,'' said Northwestern coach Stacey Zematis. "We can hit the fast pitchers, but she just had so much else.''
Connors, who has a 69-4 career record, can certainly throw hard. But she knows that's only part of it.
"She's so smart. She gets the game,'' said Sutman. "She can read hitters really well. She also knows exactly when to throw the pitches and how to throw them.''
Katelyn Haff and Hancock sparked the Waterford offense, each collecting two hits and stealing two bases. The Lancers were 5-for-5 in stolen base attempts and, combined with a gusting wind, made life difficult for Northwestern's defense, which dropped two fly balls and struggled with others.
"We come from the wind (Litchfield County),'' said Zematis. "But we struggled today. Facing that pitching, and they challenged us on the bases - and nobody had done that. And we didn't handle that well.''
Hancock, Waterford's senior spark plug, got the ball rolling as usual. She singled to lead off the first inning, stole second and third and came home when Haff was credited with an RBI single on a perfectly placed squeeze bunt for an early lead.
"That takes the pressure off,'' said Connors.
Elaina Sullivan's sacrifice fly scored Courtney Borysewicz, who had singled, in the bottom of the second for a 2-0 lead. Waterford iced the game with a three-run fifth. Haff singled and scored on an error, Christine Hadfield tripled home Hannah Swanson and Jaime Dahl squeezed Hadfield home. The Lancers closed out the scoring in the sixth with a one-out triple by Hancock followed by Talia Rickerson's RBI single.
Northwestern's only run came in the sixth when Liz Newkirk, the Highlanders' No. 2 hitter, lined a ball to the gap in left-centerfield for a home run.
"I told Kelli before the game to watch out for their No. 2 hitter,'' said Sutman. "She looked over before the at-bat, but I was doing something. So after the homer she looks over to me as asks 'was that the No. 2 hitter?' "
A pretty good first day of June otherwise.