By Rick Menning
BRISTOL, CT -- For the Connecticut Little League girls' softball champions on the Leon J. Breen Field, the adventure through the New England Region tournament continues under the prime-time lights on Wednesday night.
Showcasing flash and firepower with their bats and their gloves, the girls from Milford surged past St. Albans, Vermont on Monday afternoon and, in the process, earned another day off before shining under the national spotlight in an ESPN+ semifinal attraction on July 26 at 7 p.m.
The sluggers who hail from Brewster Field drew a bye on Sunday so only appeared for the gala opening ceremonies. After Monday's win, they now have more free time for fun -- and of course practice on the auxiliary fields and in the batting cages at Bristol's massive complex -- before going to battle with Cranston, Rhode Island.
Both of the semifinalists scored in double figures in their opening contest at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center. Cranston defeated Massachusetts 10-5 on Sunday night, while Milford combined a late outburst and stellar defense to down Vermont 11-1.
With a large and supportive crowd -- including once again players from last year's New England championship team that advanced to the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, North Carolina -- in the first-base bleachers, the home state representatives turned a 1-1 cliffhanger into an 11-1 mercy rule triumph in just two innings.
An even larger crowd is expected on Wednesday as the Milford diamond dynamos vie for a berth in Friday's regional championship game.
"This lineup is ridiculous from top to bottom, and tonight it was a two-inning burst," said Milford manager Bryan Glynn after his team scored six runs in the fourth inning and four more in the fifth inning to break it open. "It was fun to watch out there."
Milford and Vermont both scored without the benefit of a hit in the third inning, and the pitcher's duel between Milford's Grace Weber and Cranston's Irie Shedd continued until the bottom of the fourth inning.
Clicking on all cylinders
That's when this state's District 4 and Section 1 champions' bats came alive with clutch hits and exceptional baserunning to break things open and achieve a decisive victory in round one of regionals.
"It was kind of crazy the way we (rallied in such a big way)," added Glynn, whose road combatants improved their All-Star tournament record this summer to 10-1. "When the game was close, some of the girls just needed a moment to breathe ... it's a big stage ... and get back their focus."
After Dani Kotansky secured the first hit in the game on a well-placed bunt that she beat out with aggressive hustle down the first-base line, Cayleigh Glynn put Milford ahead 2-1 with an RBI single past the diving Vermont shortstop to plate Emily Speringo, who had led off the inning with a walk.
A fielder's choice, a pair of walks and a Vermont error subsequently extended the lead to 5-1 before Audrey O'Connell smashed a two-run rocket inside the left-field line that culminated the six-run explosion.
Milford put the icing on the cake with four more runs in the fifth inning highlighted by another RBI hit by Glynn and Holly Coon's two-run single.
"I'm really proud of myself that I did that," Cayleigh Glynn said of her two RBI hits. "I was really nervous when I was up there (for my at-bats) but I'm really happy (with the results)."
In all, manager Bryan Glynn's team collected five of its eight total hits in that fifth and final inning.
The run production was more than enough for Grace Weber, who despite giving up the third-inning run pitched a complete-game no-hitter. She retired six of the last seven batters she faced in the game.
"I couldn't really find the zone (early on), but once I was able to get focused it was more like a normal game for me," said Weber, who although she scattered six walks was always able to make the important pitches when she needed them.
Numerous fielding gems
Right from the outset, the gold glovework was on display as Milford's left side of the infield featured all three first-inning putouts thanks to the smooth fielding of shortstop Holly Coon and third baseman Cayleigh Glynn.
After Glynn completed a forceout over to second baseman Audrey O'Connell, Holly Coon not only turned a similar forceout of her own but then raced to her left and robbed the Vermont batter of a hit while stepping on second base for the unassisted putout.
Infielder Emma Bonanno was likewise solid at first base including a slick hustle play on a slow rolling Vermont bunt to the right side that she easily picked up and tossed down to Audrey O'Connell covering the bag at first.
Then, in the top of the second inning, it was right fielder Sammy Marini's turn to provide an ESPN web gem. On a sinking liner, Marini made a fantastic sliding basket catch for the third out of the inning.
With the St. Albans girls threatening in the third inning and with only one out, Milford catcher Marina Cosmas scooped up a bunt attempt and tagged out the Vermont batter before she even had a chance to run down to first base.
Juniors in title quest
The Milford All-Stars can clinch another berth in the Little League Softball Junior Division World Series in Kirkland, Washington with a win over Johnstown, Pennsylvania tomorrow (Wednesday/July 26/9 a.m.) at Stankye Field on Old Tavern Road in Orange.
The Milford sluggers defeated Johnstown 9-4 in the first game of the East Region championship best-of-three series on Tuesday afternoon.
Like the 11-12 (Little League age) group now competing in Bristol, there are only two returning players -- Maya Fallon-Silva and Abby Corris -- who traveled to Kirkland last summer with the 2022 Juniors. Riley Fagan-Davies and Emily Speringo are the returnees on Milford's Little League squad.
Manager Brian Corris' rest of the Junior roster is comprised of those who won the New England title on Breen Field last July.
"So all 12 of these girls got to experience (that World Series) awesomeness of last year -- either in North Carolina or Washington -- and are hoping to recreate new dreams and memories this year," Corris said.
Milford Junior Division Little League Girls Softball Team Roster: Maddy Bonanno, Norah Bove, Chloe Capalbo, Abby Corris, Leah Corris, Maddie Deldin, Ariella DiOrio, Maya Fallon-Silva, Nyla Jaser, Gabby Rodriguez, Julia Scibek and Lily Stankevich.