Cadets defeat 'Cats, to play for softball title

Katie Gardella and Lauren Pitney hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning and Nicole Williams also homered and pitched earned-run free softball for St. Joseph when the top-seeded Cadets defeated fifth-seeded Seymour High, 5-3, in the Class M state tournament semifinal at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field in Stratford on Monday night.

The Cadets (26-0) will play No. 2 Oxford High (22-1) for the title on Friday night at 7 at DeLuca. Ashley Guillette pitched a no-hitter for Oxford in its 6-0 semifinal win over Tolland High.

“They (Seymour) are a great team and they were going to make us play defense, which they did,” St. Joseph head coach Jeff Babineau said. “She’s (Seymour pitcher Raeanne Geffert) going to shut teams down so we couldn’t chase pitches. The second time around helped us.”

Williams led off the second inning with a towering home run blast to left field on a 3-2 offering from Geffert, who allowed six hits and struck out five.

The Cadets upped the margin to 3-0 on Kayla Giacobbe’s clutch two-out two-strike single up the middle in the bottom of the fourth inning.

The bingle came after the freshman fouled off three straight two-strike pitches and scored Melissa Bike, who had led off with a double, and Jenna Carrano, running for Williams who had been intentionally walked.

Williams, who gave up six hits, walked two and struck out six, had plenty of help defensively.

Gardella accounted for eight assists and a put out from her third base position, as she continually short-circuited Seymour rallies with her moxie and strong arm.

“It helps that mentally I prepare for each ball to be hit to me,” said Gardella, who started her first two years in the outfield before shifting to the hot corner as a junior. “It’s an amazing feeling getting to play for a state championship.”

Babineau appreciates the work Gardella put in to excel at third.

“She’s a senior; she’s been in that spot and honestly it’s how we expect her to play,” he said. “The way Nicole pitches, Katie’s going to get groundballs and she plays the game under control.”

Hannah Hutchison came up with a run-saving catch for St. Joseph in the fourth with a runner aboard when she got on her horse and tracked down Rebecca Findley’s two-out blast  to deep centerfield.

“I count on our defense,” Williams said. “Hannah had that amazing catch and I love it when Katie plays that way at third. I had to run up to her and tell her how happy she was making me.”

Things got dicey for St. Joseph when Seymour, which had stranded runners in the first, second and fourth innings, rallied for real in the fifth.

Tori Kellogg singled to start the frame before Gardella made consecutive fine plays on ground balls to third to put two outs in the book.

A misplayed throw brought Kellogg home and extended the inning for coach Ken Pereiras’ Wildcats (17-4).

Shari Minalga knocked in the second run with a single and Geffert followed with another base hit.

Williams changed speeds to get out of the jam with a strikeout.

“I was throwing a lot of screwballs and Jovanna (Hillman) did a great job catching,” Williams said.

With its lead whittled to 3-2, Gardella homered to left field with one out, and before the celebrating Cadets could settle in on their bench, Pitney sent the next pitch over the fence in centerfield.

“That’s a great team,” Pereiras said of St. Joseph. “We get within one run and they hit two home runs to put us back in the hole.

“The hit (by Giacobbe) that came with runners on second and third with two outs. Those were too big runs.”

Seymour drew a run back in the sixth.

Findley singled to right field with one out, and when Kellogg’s grounder was misplayed, the Wildcats had runners on first and third and a run crossed on Emma Crocamo’s grounder to Bike up the first base line.

Williams set the next four batters down, the last one on strikes.