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The North Branford softball team made it five Shoreline titles in a row by posting a 5-3 win against Valley Regional in the final of the Shoreline Conference Tournament at Old Lyme High School on May 25. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Junior Katy Pederson hit a walk-off single when the T-Birds beat Haddam-Killingworth in the Shoreline Conference quarterfinals and then had the game-winning hit in their win over Valley Regional in the Shoreline Conference championship game. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
Freshman Bella Hills earned three victories on the hill to help the North Branford softball squad win the Shoreline Conference Tournament for the fifth year in a row. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Sound | Buy This Photo)
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The North Branford softball team claimed its fifth-straight Shoreline Conference title by going on a thrilling tournament run that featured a trio of dramatic victories. The Thunderbirds earned a 7-6, eight-inning win against Haddam-Killingworth and then edged out Coginchaug by a 4-3 score in the first two rounds of the Shoreline Conference Tournament to advance to a championship showdown against Valley Regional. North Branford broke open a tie game by plating two runs in the top of the seventh inning and hung on for a 5-3 victory versus Valley at Old Lyme High School on May 25. The T-Birds have now won the Shoreline Conference crown in all five seasons with Nick DeLizio as the team’s head coach.
“It really is surreal. You always visualize a team holding up the trophy. Raising that trophy makes it all worth it,” Coach DeLizio said. “To watch them celebrate is the best part. It’s a great experience to be a part of. After all the hard work, the ups and downs, winning something like this makes it that much better.”
North Branford traveled a different road to the Shoreline title than it did the last few years. After leaning on the arms of some veteran pitchers in recent seasons, the T-Birds sent freshman Bella Hills to the mound during this year’s Shoreline Conference Tournament. With the backing of a top-notch defense, Hills came through by pitching some solid innings in Shorelines.
“Talk about mental toughness, she rose to the occasion. The team rallied behind her and to rise to the occasion in three big playoff games is huge. It’s big for a freshman to do that,” said DeLizio. “The last four years, we were blessed with All-State pitching. This year, we knew the ball would be put in play more, so our focus on was defense. They say defense wins championships, and it sure did when we needed it.”
No. 3 seed North Branford started off the Shoreline Conference draw by claiming a 7-6 home victory in eight innings versus No. 6 Haddam-Killingworth in the quarterfinal round. The T-Birds won the game in walk-off fashion when junior Katy Pederson hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth. Pederson finished the game with three hits, a run scored, and an RBI, while junior Kayla Despres had a hit and drove in a run.
Senior captain Amy Raucci, sophomore Erica Piercey, Hills, and freshman Hannah Senerchia each had a triple in the victory, plus Raucci drove home two runs. Senerchia and sophomore Sophia Ouellet both scored a pair of runs for North Branford. Hills pitched all eight innings to get the win.
The next day, North Branford traveled to Durham to face No. 2 seed Coginchaug and defeated the Blue Devils by the final score of 4-3 in a semifinal game. Hills scattered eight hits and only walked one to pick up another victory. At the plate, Senerchia had three hits, including a triple and a double, to go with three runs scored. Senior captain Angelina Ramanda had a pair of hits with an RBI, while sophomore Jada Miconi and Despres both had a hit with an RBI.
The stage was now set for North Branford to take on top-seeded Valley Regional in the Shoreline Conference final. The Warriors came into the game with just one loss and had defeated the T-Birds twice during the regular season. However, with the league title at stake, North Branford’s experience on the big stage helped the team pull through for a 5-3 victory over the Warriors.
“Prior to the game, one of my players said, ‘We’ve been here before.’ All of a sudden, I was calm, the girls were excited, and I could feel a sense of control. We were ready,” Coach DeLizio said. “This was a big win for the program. To win one is tough, but to go in not as the favorite and face a top-10 team with a 21-1 record and one of the best pitchers in the state is not easy. The girls rose to the occasion.”
Hills outdueled Valley Regional’s Addy Bullis by allowing three runs on six hits to notch the win. With the score tied 3-3 heading into the top of the seventh inning, Miconi led off the frame with a double for North Branford. Ramada followed with a walk and then both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Pederson stepped up to the plate and delivered a two-run single to give the T-Birds a 5-3 lead.
Ramada had three hits and scored a pair of runs for North Branford in the victory. Raucci, Pederson, and Piercey all had a hit with an RBI to help Coach DeLizio’s club maintain its perch atop the Shoreline Conference.
“Our girls knew it was playoff time. Winning the Shorelines, we feel we’re taking care of our neighborhood or, our backyard, as we call it,” said DeLizio. “The girls wanted it. We used our playoff experience from the past. Acting like you’ve been there helped.”
Following Shorelines, North Branford began the Class M State Tournament as the No. 23 seed took an 8-0 loss at No. 10 Lauralton Hall in a first-round matchup. Ramada, senior Ashley Anderson, Despres, and freshman Gianna DePino each had a hit for the T-Birds, who finished their season with an overall record of 15-9.
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