Foran rolls into state semifinals
For most high school softball teams, losing an All-State pitcher, an All-State catcher and a second baseman who batted over .500 two years in a row — all from a team that won a state title — would have meant only one thing.
A one-way ticket back to the rebuilding process.
At Foran of Milford, which easily dispatched No. 8 Wethersfield 4-0 in the Class L quarterfinals Friday afternoon in Milford, it has meant business as usual.
Thanks to the pitching of sophomore Jessica Harkness, a talented young core of players who missed going to the Little League Softball World Series by one game a few years back, and the leadership of its only two seniors, Brooke Phelan and Alyssa Puccilli, the top-seeded Lions once again find themselves among the best teams in the state.
Foran will take a 24-1 record into the Class L semifinals against No. 5 Brookfield in a game that will be played either Monday or Tuesday at a neutral site. Last week the Lions won an elusive Southern Connecticut Conference title with a victory over Amity, and now Foran is two wins away from claiming its second straight state title.
“All the girls are stepping up right now. The girls have really been playing good softball,” Foran head coach Jeff Bevino said. “This is a wonderful group of girls. I was so scared (Thursday) was going to be our last day of practice. I didn’t tell them that, but I’m going to rue the day whether we win it or not when I can’t be with these girls anymore.”
Harkness has been one of the major reasons for Foran’s dominance. The fire-balling left-hander, who took over as the team’s starter after the graduation of her sister Taylor, allowed just two hits over seven innings against the Eagles (18-4), striking out 10 of the 25 batters she faced.
“She has pitched well,” Bevino said. “Because we have the ability to throw a kid like that out on the mound every game, we always have a chance to win. We really do.”
Harkness, whose curvevall was consistently riding in the hands of Wethersfield’s right-handed hitters, allowed singles in each of the first two innings then retired 15 of the final 16 batters she faced.
Harkness allowed only one other batter to reach base on a leadoff walk in the top of the sixth, but struck out the final two batters on called third strikes to escape the mini-jam.
“I definitely had a big adrenaline rush,” she said. “I was able to stay calm knowing my team was behind me.”
Harkness also allowed a single to opposing pitcher Laura Davis to lead off the game then proceeded to strike out the next three batters in order.
Wethersfield faced other left-handed pitchers this season, but none as tough as Harkness.
“She was very tough,” Wethersfield head coach Brian Fanelli said. “We just did not adjust because of her speed. We haven’t seen anyone that fast this year.”
Davis held Foran in check early, allowing just one hit over the first three innings. But Foran finally scratched across a run with two outs in the fourth as sophomore Fallon Bevino, the head coach’s daughter, doubled off the base of the fence in left field and came home when a floating infield single by designated hitter Bryanna Gonski (2-for-3) got kicked into foul ground for an error by second baseman Susan Kieselback.
“She (Davis) really pitched a great game,” Bevino said. “She was moving the ball around and getting it inside on us. We were fortunate to get that run the way we did.”
That was all the offense Foran would need, but three insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth definitely took the wind out of the Eagles.
Freshman Danielle Kemp led things off with a double down the third-base line. Marissa Bruno walked and Gina Georgetti reached on an infield error. Bevino drove in the first run of the inning on a fielder’s choice, Gonski singled into the gap in left after the two Wethersfield outfielders froze, and Puccilli drove in two more with a single to right.
Once Harkness had a lead to work with, the killer instinct came out.
“That does help a lot,” she said. “It actually makes me push more. After they get me a hit or a run I want to keep doing my job.”
Having been through a state tournament run before, the Lions know how to perform under pressure.
“Last year definitely helped us,” Harkness said. “We know how to keep our composure better.”
With this team, we could be saying that for the next two seasons.