A team that has been knocking on the door for the last several years finally appears ready break through.
South Windsor (18-0) is the last remaining undefeated team in Class LL, and has surged into the top five in the GameTimeCT Poll the past several weeks. For a program that has been consistently competitive in Mandy Roczniak’s time with the squad, 2019 represents a chance for the Bobcats to claim their first state championship since 1972.
“It’s been a great thing to experience,” said Roczniak. “Obviously when you go into a season you don’t expect this. This wasn’t something we talked about when we set our goals. It’s a good experience but you definitely start to feel the weight of it a bit. We’re trying to shield them a little, but it’s been a great thing.”
There’s little secret why the No. 4 Bobcats are in this position. Endicott-bound senior Maria Hanchuk has taken the state by storm this year, having thrown eight straight shutouts going back to April 24. In 16 games she has a minuscule 0.42 ERA and hasn’t allowed a run in more than 60 innings pitched.
She’s also one of the team’s leading hitters, batting .458 with 27 hits so far.
#MondayMotivation, #GirlPower edition: South Windsor's Maria Hanchuk hasn't allowed a run in 64 consecutive innings//she also hit an inside the park HR in this particular game. #ygg @ciacsports pic.twitter.com/5VlO5GQ8iM
— Gabby Lucivero (@GLucivero) May 21, 2019
“(Hanchuk) is one of the easiest kids I’ve ever had to coach,” Roczniak said. “She’s got a great personality; everyone gets along with her. She loves softball but it’s not her only thing. She played field hockey in the fall and she’s very involved in school. There’s no ego involved.”
South Windsor’s statement win came May 10, when it finally knocked off CCC rival Southington after falling to the Blue Knights for all nine of Roczniak’s years in charge, including in the quarterfinals of last year’s Class LL tournament, a 1-0 decision. The big 5-0 win opened the eyes to everyone what could be possible this year.
“It felt like it was huge valley between where they were and where we were,” Roczniak said. “But the past couple of years we’ve been chipping away and getting closer. The kids had that circled in the back of their minds that really this can be the year we do it. To win the game was rewarding for them and got the monkey off their backs. It was a quality win that validated us.”
Like with most great teams it has been someone new stepping up at the plate with each victory. Roczniak gave credit to senior catcher Liberty Wells, who has built a close rapport with Hanchuk. The two call most of the game together.
Many other key contributors will return next year though. Sophomore Kenadine Gonzalez is hitting over .400 while junior Megan LeMay plays first base. Freshmen Bridget Doherty and Lyndsay Donston have made a big impact, too.
Senior second baseman Becca Vesco has made a leap this year, Roczniak said, while fellow senior Taylor Darby leads the team with 19 RBIs.
Unlike most conferences, the CCC does not hold a conference tournament. Roczniak sees this as a positive with the hectic schedule that includes teams racing to finish their regular season in time.
“I look at what we would be facing this year; we’d be trying to finish the season playing so many games, then playing a tournament,” Roczniak said. “I don’t want to put those innings on my catcher; they are always forgotten about. You have to play two or three games back-to-back. I think it puts a lot on the kids at the end at the season when they are starting to get tired already.”
It’s only fitting that in a season full of postponements that the conference tournaments across the state would feel the impact as a result. Only the FCIAC tournament — which began Friday — remained in tact. The league tournaments across the state feature anywhere from a clear favorite to ones where any of the qualifiers could earn the crown. Most conferences begin their quest Monday.
Dates: Semifinals, Monday at Sacred Heart 3 p.m. (St. Joseph vs. Stamford) and 5 p.m. (Trumbull vs. Warde); Championship, Thursday at Sacred Heart, 5 p.m.
League favorite: St. Joseph.
Player to watch — Olivia Vadas, Warde: The Mustangs’ ace could spoil the party in the semifinals; she helped the Mustangs past Warde in Friday’s quarters.
What to watch for: St. Joseph and Trumbull pulled away from the pack from the outset, and both advanced to Monday’s semifinals. Until someone can knock off the Cadets from their perch (having won four of the previous five titles), The No. 1 team in the state can hit for average, power and has a lights-out pitcher in Payton Doiron.
Dates: Quarterfinals, Monday at higher seeds; Semifinals, Tuesday at Biondi Field, West Haven, 5 and 7 p.m.; Championship, Thursday at Biondi Field, 7 p.m.
League favorite: Cheshire.
Player to watch — Lauren Card, North Haven: She helped lift the Indians to as high as No. 3 in the state poll, but two losses temporarily brought North Haven down to earth. Could be the best pitcher in the tournament.
What to watch for: Chaos. Any of the eight teams has the potential to come away with the trophy with Cheshire, North Haven and West Haven leading the pack. Amity is lurking as a dangerous low seed. The Indians emerged as champs a year ago after Cheshire was ousted in the quarterfinals, but the inverse could happen this year.
Dates: Quarterfinals, Monday at higher seeds, times TBA; Semifinals, Tuesday at DeLuca Field, Stratford, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Championship, Thursday at DeLuca Field, Stratford, 7 p.m.
League favorite: Masuk
Player to watch — MacQuarrie Stone-Folmar, ND-Fairfield: The sophomore has belted a state-leading 15 home runs in 17 games this season.
What to watch for: If the Panthers play in a competitive game against an SWC team, it will have been so for just the third time this season. Masuk survived a 3-1 win over Barlow and beat ND-Fairfield 8-1, but Masuk has stomped everyone else. A pair of ace pitchers and a lineup capable of playing both small and big combine to provide Masuk a huge advantage of winning its third straight conference crown.
Dates: Quarterfinals, Monday at higher seeds; Semifinals, Tuesday at Seymour, 4 and 6:30 p.m.; Championship, Wednesday at Naugatuck 6:30 p.m.
League favorite: Seymour
Player to watch — Abby Poirot, St. Paul: A dual threat for the Falcons, Poirot hit close to .450 and threw quality innings this season.
What to watch for: Big numbers could dominate the scores late in this tournament if the action this season is any indicator. St. Paul scored 14 runs in a game and lost (to Woodland) while Seymour out-slugged both St. Paul (10-9) and Oxford (8-7) at points this season.
Dates: Semifinals, Thursday at Trinity College, Hartford, noon and 2 p.m.; Championship, Thursday at Trinity College, 4 p.m.
League favorite: Ellington
Player to watch — Megan Beebe, Ellington: An All-State selection from a year ago, Beebe has turned in several stellar performances this year. That includes a 15-strikeout performance against South Windsor.
What to watch for: Granby has been the top dog in the league for several years, but took a step back by winning “just” 14 games this season. The final could come down to Ellington and Coventry, which was edged by Granby in the semifinals a year ago. Coventry had just one loss during the regular season and is coming off a spot in last season’s Class S semifinals.
Dates: Quarterfinals, Tuesday at higher seeds; Semifinals, Wednesday (Division I at Griswold, Division II at East Lyme); Championship, Thursday at Griswold (Division II, 4 p.m., Division I, 7 p.m.)
League favorite: NFA, Montville
Player to watch — Hailee Schrader, NFA: Broke the school’s hits record earlier this season; the All-Stater is one of the top infielders in the state.
What to watch for: The league split its tournament in two this year for the first time after a classic final in 2018. The Wildcats and Griswold could be heading toward a rematch in the final, but Waterford (17-3) will have a massive say. The Lancers lost to Griswold in extras and fell 8-6 to NFA.
In Division II, Montville is wrapping up a successful season that puts it in pole position to win the second-tier crown, but split a pair of games this season against Ledyard. Plainfield also lurks as it dropped a pair of 1-0 decisions to Montville.
Dates: Play in game (if necessary) Wednesday; Quarterfinals, Thursday at higher seeds; Semifinals, Friday at higher seeds; Championship, Saturday at Old Lyme, 1 p.m.
League favorite: Valley Regional
Player to watch — Skyler Rapuano, Hale Ray: The senior standout headed to the University of Rhode Island hasn’t slowed down yet, hitting .642 this season. Will be one of the toughest outs in the entire state.
What to watch for: North Branford’s run of four straight conference crowns is in serious jeopardy as several squads — led by the undefeated Warriors — are gunning for the Thunderbirds. Valley Regional has edged many of its league rivals by one-to-three runs behind ace Addy Bullis, but traditional rivals Coginchaug and Hale Ray are in the mix.