Published June 06. 2013 4:00AM
West Haven - There's anxious to play and then there's the level to which the Waterford softball team brought things this week, forced by weather to wait two days for its state semifinal.
"They would text me, 'Game day. Can't wait to play,'" Waterford High School coach Liz Sutman said. "Elaina (Sullivan, catcher) takes pictures of herself getting out of bed and sends them to me. 'Ready to play.' That was Monday."
Once the layoff was over, the Lancers teed off.
Sutman's team, which finished with 15 hits, scored seven runs in the first four innings Wednesday at West Haven High School and outlasted top-seeded Suffield 7-4 to reach the Class M state championship game for the fifth time in seven years.
Megan Spellman pitched a six-hitter with 13 strikeouts, no-hitting Suffield for four innings while the Lancers raced to the lead. Also for Waterford (21-6), Jaime Dahl and freshman leadoff hitter Claire Hurley had three hits each, with Dahl connecting for a two-run single up the middle in a four-run third.
No. 12 Waterford, bidding for its fourth state title in program history, will play No. 2 Granby for that distinction at 7 p.m. Friday, also at West Haven in a rematch of last year's semifinal game won by Granby.
And this was the Lancers team that lost a pair of all-staters and program greats in Gatorade Connecticut Player of the Year Kelli Connors (pitcher) and Alyssa Hancock (shortstop), uncertain what 2013 would bring.
"We were so excited. We just had to believe in ourselves and come out firing the whole game," said Hurley, who singled in the second, fifth and seventh innings, driving in the Lancers' first run in the second. "I love it. I was nervous. I was really nervous. I look to all the seniors, the captains, they've been here before."
"At the beginning of the season, I don't think anybody expected it with this team," Spellman said. "It's the best feeling. … I was prepared. My blood was going."
In the second inning, one of the stars of Waterford's quarterfinal victory last week over Haddam-Killingworth, Julia Zawacki, blooped a single over the Suffield shortstop and Sarah Pacheco followed with a double over the right fielder's head to put runners on second and third.
With two outs, Hurley hit a ball that caromed off the pitcher's glove to the second baseman, but went for an infield single when the speedy Hurley beat the throw.
The Lancers then added four in the third on four hits and two errors and two in the fourth, taking advantage of two more Suffield errors. Waterford sent eight batters to the plate in both innings, getting an RBI single from Katelyn Haff in the fourth when the lead ballooned to 7-0.
Suffield finished with six errors, but the Wildcats' bats did come to life late.
Katie Mahoney drilled a single to right in the fifth for Suffield's first hit and the Wildcats scored on back-to-back two-out hits by Lexi Pallotti (single) and Kacey Gifford (double).
"That is not the type of softball we usually play," said Suffield coach Johanne Presser, whose team finished 21-3. "We made so many errors. You don't have the record we have and play like that. But credit Waterford: they're really fast, they have good arms and their pitcher is great. She's a tad faster than most of the kids we play."
In the sixth, Spellman recorded a strikeout to end the inning with Mahoney on second after an RBI double that made it 7-4. In the seventh, with the top of the Suffield order up, Spellman allowed a one-out single to Gifford before getting a strikeout and a popup to Hannah Swanson at second base for the final out.
"When you're a little struggling like that, you have to keep your composure," said Spellman, a senior. "If you're calm, that helps (the other players), too."
"We came with the expectation that if we play our game, we can compete with anybody," said Sutman, whose team last lost in the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship game to East Lyme after holding a 5-0 lead early. "… Now, when things go wrong, the girls can't wait to get out there and make it right, not go, 'Ohhhh' and fall apart.
"You could never have scripted this season. Every game we played you had to play the game. It's great to see them get to where they are and seize the moment. That's what's great about coaching."