— Jim Fuller (@NHRJimFuller) June 8, 2017
STRATFORD >> With each stride Northwestern Regional center fielder Ellie Olsen took towards the center-field fence drove Sydney Senerchia that much closer to a state of speechlessness.
The junior left-handed pitcher was already painting the corners en route to leading the North Branford softball program to its first state championship game in 42 years, but the thought of her first career home run being a grand slam was simply too much for her to comprehend.
By game’s end, Senerchia tossed a three-hitter and was 4 for 4 to lead seventh-seeded North Branford to a 7-1 win over No. 3 Northwestern Regional in the Class M semifinals on Wednesday at DeLuca Field.
“I haven’t even hit a home run before, let alone a grand slam in a semifinal state game,” Senerchia said. “It is really awesome, it is good to know that all of our hard work was paying off.
“I just hit it and said, ‘oh my God, I think that is going to go over’ and then I was kind of shocked for the next few innings.”
It didn’t show in her pitching as she set the Highlanders down in order in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Senerchia took a one-hit shutout into the seventh inning and finished the game in style, recording her seventh strikeout to end the game.
“Biggest moment I’ve ever had in softball,” Senerchia said. “I will tell my grand kids about this.”
Senerchia received all the offense she needed in the third inning when the Thunderbirds had six hits during a five-run outburst.
Brianna Raccio started it with the first of two doubles. She would score on a Julia Haeckel sacrifice fly. Senerchia delivered the biggest blow as singles by Angelina Ramada, Olivia Hemstock and Emily Muzyka loaded the bases to set the stage for Senerchia.
“We’ve been talking about our approach at the plate, zoning in the pitches we need to hit in certain situations, certain counts and we had some big hits today,” North Branford coach Nick DeLizio. “Raccio was huge, Sydney come up with the bases loaded and puts it right over the center-field fence, you talk about a momentum setter and plus how she pitched today, it was awesome to see that. It was awesome to see the girls rally around one another and pull this game out.”
Danielle Ramada had an RBI single and Angelina Ramada walked with the bases loaded in the seventh inning to cap the scoring. That was more than enough for Senerchia, who improved to 11-3.
“She was awesome, and we got caught back on our heels whether it was because it was a lefty pitcher, whether it was nerves or whatever the reason, we sat up there and watched a lot of pitches go by,” Northwestern Regional coach Stacey Zematis said. “She did a great job. She deserves all the credit in the world. They hit the heck out of the ball. They also hit the ball where we weren’t.”
Jana Sanden had a one-out single and scored on Harley Jasmin’s double in the bottom of the seventh inning for Northwestern Regional (21-3) to get the Highlanders on the board. Jasmin had two of Northwestern Regional’s three hits.
Muzyka, Kayla Despres and Raccio had two hits each for North Branford (22-5) which advances to its first state title game since falling to Sheehan in the 1975 Class M title game.
“I wasn’t born yet,” DeLizio said with a laugh. “We talk about growth, coming up with our own identity, going through growing pains. We talk about being a family, families go through their struggles and we overcame a lot of things, you could see them coming together, a tight bond with one another, supporting one another and playing awesome softball.”
The Highlanders had a memorable run winning its previous two games by a combined three runs.
“The girls had a great year,” Zematis said. “If you asked me at the beginning of the year if we would make it to the semifinals, I would have laughed at you. They worked hard all season right up to the last pitch. They gave it their all, and they are heartbroken, because it was just a taste away. But they never gave up.”
NORTH BRANFORD 7, NORTHWESTERN 1
North Branford 005 000 2 — 7 13 1
Northwestern 000 000 1 — 1 3 1
Sydney Senerchia and Kayla Despres; Kate Matava,Jana Sanden (7) and Kate Wald .
WP: Sydney Senerchia (11-3). LP: Kate Matava (). 2B: (NoBfd) Brianna Raccio; (NW) Harley Jasmin. Hr: Sydney Senerchia (NOBFD)RBI: Senerchia (4), Haeckel, Ramada, Ramada (NOBFD); Harley Jasmin (NW);
Team records: North Branford 22-5; Northwestern 21-3.