By Rick Menning
BRISTOL, CT -- The Milford Major Division All-Stars capitalized on a huge opportunity right at the outset of Saturday afternoon's Little League Softball New England Regional opening game.
With two outs in their home half of the first inning -- and trailing Tiverton, Rhode Island 1-0 at that point -- the Connecticut state champions erupted for nine runs enroute to a 12-1 victory in their opening game at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center.
After almost fouling out to Tiverton's first baseman, Ariella DiOrio made the most of her second chance at bat and walloped a two-run triple over the head of the left fielder.
Her blast to the fence opened the floodgates for Connecticut, which cruised to its eighth straight All-Star tournament victory going back to districts.
After DiOrio's rip, Milford proceeded to send eight more batters to the plate and surge for seven more runs before Rhode Island was able to get the third out in that decisive first inning.
By virtue of the convincing team effort in front of a big crowd and a national television audience on ESPN+, the Connecticut squad advances to play Colchester, Vermont on Sunday at 4 p.m. as the diamond doings continue in Bristol.
The foursome of Norah Bove, Maddie Deldin, Maddy Bonanno and Lily Stankevich all launched run-scoring singles during that first-inning onslaught.
No speed limit
Even more noteworthy that inning was Milford's ability to use its speed and aggressiveness to consistently race into scoring position via steals and keep Rhode Island off balance while putting the ball in play all over the diamond. Connecticut had five of its seven steals in the first inning.
"We knew our team could hit ... and once we got those jitters out and the ball started to fall, and we started to run, we were able to get a little bit of momentum," Manager Michael Bonanno said.
He was thrilled with the pitching performance of Sophia Horvack, who allowed leadoff singles in the first and third innings, but came up huge in striking out four batters (one reached first on a dropped third strike) in a fantastic second-inning outing.
Leah Corris took over in the circle in the fourth inning and retired the side in order.
A big-time blast
Bonanno was proud of Ariella's determination to come through after getting that second chance to deliver a clutch early hit.
"It was incredible ... all year (Ariella) has been one of our best hitters," Bonanno said. "I said to her at batting practice that today was going to be her day."
DiOrio was actually shocked that the ball traveled the distance it did as it not only landed over the left fielder's head but also rolled all the way to the fence.
A big crowd of Milford parents and fans on the first-base side went wild as Connecticut used that hit to produce a big two-out rally.
"It just sailed through the air and kept going," DiOrio said. "I really didn't know it was going to go that far. It just felt really good."
She was happy to get another opportunity after Tiverton's first baseman had the foul pop-up just skim off the front of her glove and fall to the ground.
"I was scared she was going to catch it and (said to myself) 'oh no' ... but then when I saw it drop I said 'yay, I have another chance,'" DiOrio said. "I swung at the right pitch."
DiOrio, who caught the entire game and made a great catch behind the plate on a pop-up near the screen, felt that Horvack effectively handled the first-inning pressure as Rhode Island scored its only run.
"I thought she did really well," DiOrio said. "The first inning was a little rough just (in terms of) where the ball went but we were able to shake it off and then have our big inning," DiOrio continued.
Milford tacked on two more runs in the second inning, highlighted by Maddy Bonanno's bunt RBI single. The Connecticut champs added a run in the third inning on a Rhode Island error.
Next up for the Milford girls is Colchester, Vermont which will be playing its first game in the New England Region tournament having drawn a bye on Saturday.
That action will be followed at 7 p.m. by a match-up between Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Both enter with 0-1 regional records.
As was the case on Saturday, there will be two Mid-Atlantic Region games on Sunday with the diamond doings taking place at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
All games in both regionals are broadcast on ESPN+ to a national television audience.