OLD LYME >> Buoyed by a power hitting surge and another crafty pitching performance from junior Sydney Senerchia, the North Branford softball team captured its third straight Shoreline Conference tournament championship with a 10-5 victory over Hale Ray Sunday afternoon at Old Lyme High School.
“It’s really amazing,” North Branford coach Nick DeLizio said. “It shows the character of these kids to battle day in and day out. This is what we prepare for and this is one of our goals every year … To win the Shoreline championship. It’s just so awesome to see them work so hard for a goal and achieve it.”
A day after edging Haddam-Killingworth with pitching and defense in the semifinals, the Thunderbirds (18-5) blasted four home runs in a three-peat performance for the ages against the top-seeded Noises (18-5).
Senior Emily Muzyka hit two homers, junior Olivia Hemstock collected four hits, including a homer and two doubles, and junior Danielle Ramada crushed a two-run homer to highlight North Branford’s 15-hit attack.
“Where was this all season?” DeLizio wondered. “The bats came alive. They brought the juice today.”
Hemstock and Muzyka slammed back-to-back homers in the third against Hale Ray senior righthander Katrina Ceceri to give North Branford a 3-0 lead.
Sophomore Angelina Ramada made it 4-0 with an RBI single in the top of the fourth.
Hale Ray, which defeated Coginchaug in Saturday’s other semifinal, rallied in the fourth behind an RBI double from freshman Erin Molkenthin and a run scoring single from Ceceri.
With the tying runs still on base and the Noises trailing just 4-2, T-birds senior second baseman Julia Haeckel made a sensational fielding play when Noises sophomore Jacey Clarke ripped a hard grounder off first baseman Danielle Ramada’s glove. Haeckel alertly scooped up the ball and dove to the first base bag to get Clarke in a close play for the third out.
“Haeckel’s play, for me, was the the turning point,” DeLizio added.
Muzyka and Danielle Ramada then extended North Branford’s lead to 8-2 with a pair of two-run homers in the top of the fifth.
“They always hit the ball very well and we knew that coming into it,” Hale Ray coach Suzy Miner said. “You can’t make little mistakes on pitch location or on defense and expect to be successful against a very good team. I’m proud of the way Katrina battled today. She’s pitched every game for us. But you miss a tiny bit on a pitch and good hitters are going to take advantage of that.”
Senerchia, who improved to 8-0, finished with 10 strikeouts. The junior lefthander retired the first nine batters and never allowed Hale Ray’s vaunted small ball game to get untracked.
“They didn’t see Sydney last time ( a 4-2 Noises’ win on April 27) so we figured we’d switch it up a little bit with a lefty and she continued where she left off from yesterday’s game against H-K,” DeLizio said.
Junior Isabelle Hajek had two hits and sophomore Skyler Rapuano drilled a bases loaded triple in the seventh inning for the Noises, who host HMTCA in the opening round of the Class S state tournament on Tuesday.
No. 7 North Branford hosts Montville in a Class M first round contest on Tuesday.
“It feels incredible,” Muzyka said. “We knew that we had the potential and that we were going to have to work a lot harder this year in order to get here again. But we knew we had enough good players returning for us to win again.”