SIMSBURY >> A three-run first inning was more than enough run support for Seymour pitcher Erin Lifrieri.
Lifrieri kept North Branford off balance with her array of pitches en route to a 4-1 victory Sunday at Memorial Park.
The Seymour victory forces a third game to decide the Little League state softball champion. The teams meet again Monday night at 6 at the same site.
Lifrieri allowed five hits, one walk and struck out four. The lone North Branford run came on a single by losing pitcher Bella Hills that scored Erica Piercey in the third inning.
“I used fastball, change and my curve ball,” Lifrieri said.
North Branford and Seymour were two of the four sectional winners that advanced to the state championship tournament.
The two teams with the best record after round robin games are complete play for the title.
North Branford defeated Seymour 7-4 on July 13. Lifrieri pitched four innings of relief in that contest.
“Erin had great control of all of her pitches (Sunday),” Seymour manager Bob Rousseau said. “Erin did a phenomenal job. She has all season.”
Seymour scored three times in the first inning on two hits, a walk, a passed ball and an error. Jacey Cosciello, Alyssa Johnson and Lifrieri scored in the inning, while Mackenzie Sirowich had an RBI single.
“Normally not a problem for us,” North Branford manager Russ Senerchia said about his team’s three-run deficit. “We’re good for three, four, five runs a game. That one there knocked them back on their heels and they just didn’t recover.”
North Branford put runners on first and second with one out in the fifth, but Lifrieri worked two infield pop outs to end the threat.
“She (Lifrieri) was just as effective in the first game,” Senerchia said. “Not fast — doesn’t have to be. She moves the ball around and keeps the girls off balance, and it works.”
The loss was the first of the postseason for North Branford.
“Maybe a loss helps them,” Senerchia said. “They hadn’t had one yet, so sometimes that fuels you. Today’s play was uncharacteristic. Credit Seymour, obviously, for that, but today was uncharacteristic. We made mistakes in the field and didn’t hit. You can’t have both.”
Gianna DePino had three hits and two stolen bases for North Branford. Hills allowed just two hits, walked three and struck out eight. Singles by Cosciello and Sirowich in the first inning were the only hits Hills surrendered.
“We talked about how important it was to come out and be aggressive in the first inning,” Rousseau said. “This team has beaten us earlier; they’re a great team. We wanted to respect them by really coming out in inning one and doing our absolute best.”