By Rick Menning
The summit of their amazing climb toward the Junior League girls' softball mountaintop is clearly in sight.
A group of teenage girls from Milford, Connecticut -- the newly crowned United States champions after Texas lost to the Philippines on Friday night -- continued their incredible journey toward the World Series pinnacle in Kirkland, Washington on Friday with a resounding 5-0 semifinal victory over Niceville, Florida.
Carrying the banner of U.S. East in this international tournament, the All-Stars from southern Connecticut improved their record to 6-0 at Everest Park near the shores of Lake Washington.
By remaining undefeated, Milford punched its ticket into Saturday's World Series final against Bago City, Philippines. First pitch on ESPN+ will be thrown at 5 p.m.
"The girls are so pumped. They are totally over the moon right now," said Milford manager Brian Corris as the team stepped off the bus for a huge dinner celebration after the game.
The U.S. East and United States champion's express surge into the world championship game comes with a lightning strike of emphasis as pitcher Abby Corris was nothing short of sensational inside the circle.
Electric from start to finish, Corris won her fifth game in the World Series and was dominant with a complete-game no-hitter with seven strikeouts.
"Abby was absolutely amazing," Brian Corris said of his daughter's remarkable performance. "She hit every spot every time a (certain) pitch was called. She was so effective out there."
Only two balls reached the outfield against Corris, who mixed in her riser, off-speed and change with a blistering fast ball thrown in for good measure. She has totaled 40 strikeouts in 31 innings.
Once again, Milford's infield of first baseman Maddie Deldin, second baseman Lily Stankevich, shortstop Gabby Rodriguez and third baseman Julia Scibek executed every play in error-free fashion.
Total focus in the field
Rodriguez flawlessly handled six fielding plays, including a tricky one-hopper that she cradled into her glove before firing a strike over to Deldin. Stankevich was also clutch with five fielding gems, while Scibek's two great plays at third included a nice scoop on a slow roller just inside the line and a subsequent laser over to Deldin.
Center fielder Norah Bove -- who hauled in probably the hardest-hit ball from Florida's lineup -- and left fielder Maya Fallon-Silva each made a great catch on their respective fly ball challenges. That was the extent of the outfield work thanks to Corris' pitching masterpiece.
Corris, who also contributed at the plate with a double and a kangaroo-hop single past the Niceville second baseman, ended the game by winning a 10-pitch standoff with the final Florida batter. She fouled off numerous pitches before Corris nailed down the extra-special K to end the game.
She jumped for joy and received immediate hugs from catcher Chloe Capalbo and manager/dad Brian Corris before being mobbed by her teammates.
Consistency at the plate
As was the case in their 2-1 win over Canada in Thursday's quarterfinal, the Milford squad -- whose home complex is at Brewster Field -- struck first against Niceville.
After fouling off several tough pitches, Gabby Rodriguez won the battle and ripped an RBI double to right/center field scoring Julia Scibek for the early 1-0 advantage. Scibek had reached on a walk to start the contest and moved over to second after a wild pitch.
But unlike the Thursday diamond doings, the U.S. East representatives kept their offensive artillery firing on all cylinders with two runs in the second inning to extend their lead to 3-0.
Execution to the extreme
Leah Corris dropped a well-placed sacrifice bunt right in front of the plate as Maya Fallon-Silva raced home from third base. Fallon-Silva started the inning with a base on balls.
Then, with two outs, Maddy Bonanno connected for a bloop single to short right field as Norah Bove scored on the play. Bove had delivered an infield base hit during the frame.
Milford tacked on another run in the fourth inning when Bove, who was the pinch runner for Abby Corris who had doubled to center, stole third base and then slid safely into home after a wild pitch.
U.S. East put the whipped cream on top of the semifinal ice cream sundae with yet another run in the fifth inning to pad its cushion to 5-0. Maddy Bonnano picked up her second RBI of the game with a perfect textbook bunt single inside the line on the right side to plate Nyla Jaser, who had singled to left.
One more sleep to showtime
Once the thrills of Friday's tremendous win transcend into the light of day on Saturday, Corris said the team will be in back-to-business mode.
"It will be a return to 100 percent focus and a continuation of just doing what we do," he said. "Just keep everything under control and don't get overwhelmed by the stage. Keep things in check and play our game."