Southington High’s Julia Panarella was sliding around on the pitcher’s mound as the rain poured down in the last few innings of the Class LL softball semifinal game Tuesday afternoon at DeLuca Field.
But she still managed 11 strikeouts, including three in the sixth inning when the field conditions were deteriorating, and pitched a two-hitter to boost Southington past Hall 8-2 and back into the Class LL championship game.
Southington (25-1) will face the winner of the Fairfield-Ludlowe vs. Trumbull semifinal game, which was postponed from Tuesday to Wednesday due to the rain.
The Blue Knights will be making their 24th appearance in the state final and playing for a 19th title on either Friday or Saturday at a site to be determined.
Southington won the title two years ago, the last time championships were played before COVID-19 shuttered the spring high school sports season last year. The Blue Knights beat NFA 7-6 and Panarella was the winning pitcher as a sophomore.
“It was crazy, the second I walked in here, I felt like I was just here,” Panarella said. “It was this exact day [two years ago] that we won the championship and I think that was good vibes today to win.”
Junior pitcher Sophie Garner-MacKinnon struck out 13 for Hall, which finished 18-5.
“The conditions weren’t great,” Garner-MacKinnon said. “I would have loved a sunny day a lot better. But you do what you can with what you’ve got. My cleats started to weigh a couple more pounds in the mud.
“We came really far this year, everybody’s happy with how far we came. Obviously, we would have loved to go further but overall, we’re pretty happy.”
It was the third time the two CCC schools had faced each other this season, with Southington winning 4-2 on April 22 and 4-0 on May 21.
In the first game, Garner-MacKinnon, who has committed to Duke, struck out 19. Southington coach Davina Hernandez was happy to see that her team made adjustments at the plate.
“The first time we played her we had very poor discipline at the plate,” she said. “Our goal was to have better discipline the next game, which we did and to carry that discipline over to this game. That has been a staple for us over the years, focusing on our discipline against very good pitching.
“Sophie has a phenomenal riseball and I don’t think we swung at any of them. We really took that pitch away. She’s a great pitcher. We knew we had to get our bunts down, we practiced really hard on our small ball the last couple days and we were able to execute that early in the game before the rain came.”
Southington scored its first run in the first inning on a passed ball and got two more in the second on a Panarella triple to right and a Alison Rembish infield single. The Blue Knights picked up two more in the third on a Jazmin Lesane single, two more in the fourth and their final run in the fifth on a sacrifice bunt by Nicole Greco.
By the late innings, though, the rain made everything sloppy.
“I’m just glad it got in,” Panarella said. “By the end of the last inning, the mud, I couldn’t even use my legs. I know Sophie was dealing with it too. I was just glad the game was over and that was the last inning. You couldn’t use your legs at all, you were just sliding on every pitch.”
Lori Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.