Softball: St. Joseph defeats Granby to gain state final

Hannah Hutchison and Maddie Fitzgerald each drove in two runs when St. Joseph defeated Granby Memorial, 4-2, in the Class M softball semifinals at Frank DeLuca Hall of Fame Field in Stratford on Thursday.

Coach Jeff Babineau’s ninth-seeded Cadets (22-4) will play either second-seeded North Branford (26-0) or third-seeded Griswold (25-1) for the title on Saturday at 1 p.m. at West Haven High’s Frank Biondi Field.

St. Joseph advanced to its first state final since 2015 with the victory, but the fifth-seeded Bears (21-3) did not make the trip easy.

“Kari Marks is a phenomenal pitcher,” Babineau said of Granby’s Central Connecticut State University-bound senior, who allowed only one baserunner (walk) through four innings. “Payton Doiron was also great for us, maybe more of the cardiac variety. They challenged her every inning and she bore down every time.”

Granby had knocked off defending champion Seymour, 3-2, in its quarterfinal game and came out swinging the bats against St. Joseph, which last took home the state crown in 2010.

The Cadets’ defense turned double plays to end the first two innings, and Doiron, a sophomore, put the third out in the book on strikes in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings to leave seven more runners standing.

St. Joseph broke through in the top of the fifth inning.

With one out, Allie Petronak went the other way with a 1-2 pitch and singled to right-center field.

Paige Hunter sacrificed pinch runner Katie Spangenberg to second.

Babineau was banking on someone getting a good swing.

“We had to battle and stop swinging at pitches over our hands,” he said. “I trust that our players will adjust the second or third time around (in the batting order).”

Freshman Brittany Mairano sent a 1-2 pitch up the middle, which was smothered by a diving Shelby Smith just to the right of second base. Spangenberg had to hold at third.

Hutchison stepped in against the right-handed Marks.

“Before every at bat I tell myself to just breathe,” said Hutchison, who collected her 150th career hit in the quarterfinal win over Northwestern. “When I just breathe I block out all the other noise. She (Marks) had a great rise ball. I had to wait for my pitch.

“When the count got to two strikes (3-2), I got a pitch down in the zone and a little on the outside. I hit it the other way.”

Hutchison found the gap between third and shortstop, and Spangenberg and Mairano came home.

Fitzgerald singled Hutchison across for a 3-0 lead.

“It was a little nerve wracking (Granby’s threatening to score),” Fitzgerald said. “But we just had to keep playing our game and execute.”

The Bears got back in it with a two-run, two-out rally in the bottom of the sixth. Marks doubled home one run.

Anna-Marie Groskritz hit the ball hard in her first two at bats, only to see Mairano in right and Kayla Giacobbe at second turn both smashes into inning-ending double plays. This time she singled to center to make it 3-2.

With runners on second and third, Doiron got clean-up batter Gabby Rutigliano swinging at a 3-2 pitch.

St. Joseph added a run in the top of the seventh.

Petronchak singled for the second time, Hunter sacrificed pinch-runner Spangenberg into scoring position for the second time, and Fitzgerald made it all worthwhile with a two-out single to right-center field.

Hannah Cronin led off the home seventh with the Bears’ eight hit, a soft single to center in the bottom of the inning.

Doiron got the first out on strikes, Fitzgerald turned a bloop hit over Doiron into an out at first base, and Doiron ended the game with her 11th strikeout.

“The team had my back,” Doiron said. “It is great to get our two seniors (Hutchison and Giacobbe) to the finals. They have shown us the ropes all season. The defense really provided me comfort and I looked to do the same.”

Babineau said, “Payton had her rise ball working, and so was her change-up. That is a good combination and she had movement on all of her pitches.”