WEST HAVEN >> Shari Minalga’s final time singing the national anthem as a member of the Seymour softball team had come to an end, and as the multi-faceted senior headed out of the press box at Biondi Field, Minalga said to nobody in particular, ‘It is time to win a state championship.”
With North Branford down to its final out in the Class M championship, a ball off Angelina Ramada’s bat headed into the sure hands of the Wildcats’ senior second baseman.
Minalga was more than happy to record the final out as the fourth-seeded Wildcats won the program’s 12th state title with a 4-3 win over No. 7 seed North Branford on Saturday at Biondi Field.
“The last ball, I knew it was going to come to me,” Minalga said. “I knew the pitch she (winning pitcher Molly Adamo) was throwing and the way the hitter was going to make contact that it was going to come my way so I was ready for it.”
Minalga not only took care of the final play in a hotly-contested game, but also delivered early with an RBI double in the bottom of the first inning after North Branford third baseman Emily Muzyka opened the scoring in the top of the first with a solo homer to center field.
Minalga also played a role in the decisive sixth inning when Seymour plated what proved to be the winning run.
Speedy right fielder Becca Johnson, who was 4 for 4, laced a double down the third-base line. Minalga, the Wildcats’ RBI leader this season, sacrificed her to third to bring up the dangerous No. 3 hitter Beca Findley. The Thunderbirds had to respect Findley’s power and that proved costly when the junior shortstop laid down a bunt.
With one out, the only play was to come home, but despite a valiant effort, the throw wasn’t even close to getting Johnson.
“In practice it is very tough to simulate what she does,” North Branford coach Nick DeLizio said. “You can play in on her and she puts it in no-man’s land, she’ll slap it. She is one of the best players that I’ve seen play. We saw them a few years ago in the quarterfinals and she did the same thing. It is tough, you can’t let her let on base, you can’t let her beat you and she was an impact player.”
Johnson scored the Wildcats’ first run on Minalga’s double and also had two stolen bases giving her 49 this season.
With the game tied at 3 and the top of the order coming to the plate in the bottom of the sixth, Minalga told Johnson that it was time to go win a state championship.
“Right before she turned to me and said, ‘next inning is our inning. This is us,’” Johnson said. “Our 1-2-3 hitters are pretty productive almost always, we really look to us to score a lot of our runs.
“It was amazing. It was back and forth all the time. Right before (Findley’s squeeze bunt) I don’t think the fielders knew it is coming. I think he (DeLizio) knew it was coming but they weren’t hearing him which helped because they were back and we were able to pull it out.”
Seymour (26-2) took a 2-1 lead in the third inning as Findley singled and scored on a double by Tori Kellogg.
The lead didn’t last long as North Branford pitcher Sydney Senerchia had an RBI double and catcher Kayla Despres drove in the go-ahead run with a single to give the Thunderbirds a 3-2 lead.
In the sixth, Adamo helped her own cause with a game-tying single to drive in Kellogg setting the stage for the bottom of the sixth inning.
“They (North Branford) are a great team and I knew it was going to be a tough game from the time we were playing them,” Adamo said. “We have played them in the past and kind of have a little bit of rivalry (dating back to Little League), it is more fun when a team is as good as they are.”
Adamo came on in relief of starting pitcher Jenna Geffert for the second game in a row. Adamo came into the game with two runners on and one out in the fourth inning. Adamo struck out the next two batters to keep Seymour within a run. She allowed just one hit in 3 2/3 innings to improve to 8-2.
Adamo threw 35 pitches and 29 were for strikes.
“I like to get ahead quickly, that is kind of our thing,” Adamo said. “We like to be on top early so it makes me more comfortable.”
Adamo was certainly comfortable when she saw her final pitch of the game heading into Minalga’s glove.
“It is like the happiest feeling you can have,” Adamo said. “I knew the second I saw her settle under it and I couldn’t help myself, I was smiling because I knew she would have it.”
While Seymour is no stranger to playing in state title games, it was the first state championship appearance for North Branford since 1975.
“I touched upon Seymour being a historic program. North Branford we are chipping away here and there,” DeLizio said. “We have a solid youth program and we have been getting awesome girls coming up through it. They have been playing together and for them to be playing up on a stage like this is huge.
“To see the community come together, anywhere I’ve walked into they said good luck, your team is playing awesome, they are behind you. It is really great to see the support from the community, we are a very tight-knit bunch and for the girls to play like this with everybody here, friends, family, it is awesome.
“We said act like you’ve been here even though we haven’t but you could see the upperclassmen step up. They had a goal in mind, an objective, Muzzy (Muzyka) leading off with that home run just showed that maturity and how bad she wants it.”
Muzyka had two of the five hits for North Branford (22-6). Senerchia (11-4) came up with clutch pitches as Seymour was 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position before Adamo’s hit.
SEYMOUR 4, NORTH BRANFORD 3
NORTH BRANFORD100 200 0—3 5 2
SEYMOUR101 011 x—4 10 1
Batteries: NB—Sydney Senerchia (L, 11-4) and Kayla Despres; S—Jenna Geffert, Molly Adamo (4, W, 8-2) and Kolby Sirowich.
Home run: NB—Emily Muzyka
Records: North Branford 22-6; Seymour 26-2