WEST HAVEN >> Stephanie Dean and the Mercy softball team were prepared to defend their Southern Connecticut Conference title. The Tigers didn’t take take long to assert themselves.
Scoring four times in the first inning, Mercy defeated Hand 8-1 Friday night in the SCC tournament semifinals at Biondi Field in West Haven. With the victory, Mercy advanced to its second straight SCC title game and third in four years as the Tigers will play Amity in the title game at Biondi Field Saturday at 6 p.m.
Mercy and Amity last met in the league championship game in 2006 with the Tigers posting a shutout victory. The two teams were also declared co-champions in 2005.
“The first inning set the tone,” Mercy coach Annie Drewry said. “We came in here and said we were not going to leave here without a win. This is a new year and a new team. But, the goal is always the same.”
Mercy (18-4) took control of the game with four runs in the first inning on four hits and one big Hand error. Mercy added three more in the third inning and never looked back behind the pitching of Brianna Sawicki.
Sawicki went the distance, allowing eight hits, striking out two and walking one. The sophomore pitcher relied on her solid defense throughout the game.
“Getting those early runs really motivated us as a team,” Sawicki said. “The defense was solid as usual. I can always rely on them. This was very important for us. They beat us the second time. It was personal for us.”
Astin Donovan started the opening rally for Mercy with a single in the first and reached second when Hand pitcher Kathryn Omdahl threw high to second on a grounder by Madison Derita.
With two outs, Dean laced a double off the fence in right center to score Donovan and Derita for a 2-0 lead. Mary Adametz followed with a single to put runners on the corners and a heads-up play by Dean forced a throw home that Dean easily beat.
Sawicki’s infield single to short scored Adametz to put Mercy up 4-0.
“The first inning was big,” Hand coach Mike Niekrash said after his team fell to 17-5. “We make that play and they don’t score. It is hard to come back against them after spotting them four runs.
“I like that we did not give up. We did not quit. That bodes well for us.”
Hand threatened in the second with two-out singles by Allison Butler and Kristin LaSance and a Mercy error to load the bases, but Sawicki escaped without any damage, getting Hollis Wivell on a grounder to Donovan at short.
Mercy put the game away with three more runs in the third inning. Stephanie Mangiamelli led off with a double to center, Juliana DellaCamera reached on a fielder’s choice, and, after a stolen base, Adametz singled to score Mangiamelli and DellaCamera for a 6-0 lead. Sawicki’s double to right scored Adametz for the 7-0 advantage.
With a comfortable lead, Sawicki cruised in the middle innings. She threw just three pitches in the third inning and just six more in the fourth as Hand never got on track.
Hand’s best scoring opportunity came in the fifth when LaSance singled, Wivell walked and Annah Curcio singled to load the bases. Any momentum Hand had was quickly taken away as Melanie Rennie’s laser was snared at first by Abigayle LaRosa for an inning-ending double play.
“Brianna (Sawicki) has really grown tremendously this season,” Drewry said. “She has a solid defense behind her as well.”
Mercy closed its scoring in the seventh when Mangiamelli singled, stole second and scored on Dean’s sacrifice fly to center. Curcio knocked in Hand’s only run in the bottom of the inning with a single.
Mangiamelli led Mercy with three hits, while Adametz and Sawicki each had two hits and two RBIs. LaSance and Curcio each had three hits for Hand.
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