WEST HAVEN – With a larger than normal crowd, the West Haven softball team felt the significance of Thursday evening’s game against rival Hamden at Frank Biondi Field.
For the Westies, two important factors were to take place — one which the team could thank a long-time friend of the program and the other which the Westies could reach a goal set at the beginning of the season.
With a thorough offensive display and the pitching of Julia Bothwell, West Haven defeated Hamden 13-2 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division contest to improve to 8-5 on the season. The win not only snapped a two-game losing streak, but it also qualified the Westies for the state tournament.
“Obviously, that is our number one goal,” West Haven coach Joe Morrell said of clinching a postseason bid. “We wanted to get in as quickly as we could. Last year. it took us until the last game. Now, we have a little breathing room. We want to get as many wins as we can and get a good seed. We want to make the SCC tournament.”
The clinching of the postseason bid rounded out what was a joyous night at Biondi Field as long-time friend of the program, Thomas “Tinker” Blake, watched as the press box at Biondi Field was named for him in a ceremony prior to the game.
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“To have my name included at the complex with the names Frank Fitzgerald, Ken Strong, Whitey Piurek, Frank Biondi and Joe McHugh is a great thrill,” Blake said. “They are all great Westie icons. This is something I would have never imagined. It is a huge honor. I am totally humbled by it.”
With Biondi, who coached the team for over 30 years, and a host of family and friends of Blake’s in attendance, including superintendent of schools Neil Cavallaro, the name outside of the press box was revealed.
“I think this is fitting,” Cavallaro said. “When I grew up, everyone knew who Tinker Blake and Maureen Smullen (Blake) were. They are the epitome of West Haven. As I grew up, they always seemed to be around when doing something for a great cause. They were always there. You watch them and you understand what it means to give back. This is well deserved.”
Blake, who was the longtime announcer of West Haven softball games as well as Southern Connecticut Conference and postseason games at Biondi Field, was diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy in 2013.
“I can’t put into words what it means to have the support I have been getting from so many people,” Blake said of the honor. “I will never forget what everyone has done for my family and me. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful people. I am so grateful.”
Blake’s daughter, Erin, who played softball at West Haven and now also coaches the West Haven girls hockey team, could not hide the thrill of seeing her dad receiving this honor prior to the game.
“I am extremely proud of him,” Erin Blake said. “I am overwhelmed with how great West Haven has been to my family. West Haven has always been there for us. It is huge because my sister (Brittany) and I played on this field and I played here at Albertus (Magnus) where he was my coach. He announced here. We live up the street and we could always hear his voice at our house. It means a lot to him and us.”
As for the game and the postseason bid, West Haven made sure it took care of business quickly following the pregame festivities.
Trailing 1-0, West Haven scored three times in the first, twice in the second and three more times in the third to take an 8-1 lead. Bothwell did the rest, scattering five hits and striking out eight to pick up her sixth victory of the year.
“Tinker Blake has done a lot for this city,” Morrell said. “It means a lot. It is great to be a part of it. Not many people do as much for the city as he did. It was great to be a part of this tonight.”
The Westies had nine hits in the game as Ally Marron led the way with two hits, two runs scored and two runs batted in. Kailey Carrano also had two hits, scored once and drove in a run, while Bothwell and Sadie Roberts each drove in a pair.
In the first inning, Marron scored on a wild pitch to even the game, Madison Watts doubled to center to score Alissa Tonucci and Bothwell grounded to third to score Watts.
West Haven extended the lead to 5-1 in the second as Veronica Lynn scored on an error and Bothwell walked to force in a run. The Westies extended the lead to 8-1 in the third as Marron came up with a big hit to score Veronica Lynn.
Dina Alissi led Hamden with three of the team’s five hits, scoring once.