When you're playing in a double-elimination tournament, it's ideal to stay out of the loser's bracket, thus avoiding "win-or-go-home" scenarios that leave no margin for error.
The North Branford Little League softball squad did exactly that Friday evening against Darien at the Old Tavern Road Recreation Area, winning 10-4 on the strength of a five-run first inning before Darien even got the chance to take a swing.
"(Darien) absolutely hung in. They came back and they kept it close," said North Branford coach Russ Senerchia.
"(The pitchers) did very well. Sydney (Senerchia) was a little wild, but she kept them on their toes and got us out of trouble when she needed to. We did make a few errors, but when we needed to we absolutely played defense."
For Darien, which closed to within 6-4 in the bottom of the third, the early five-run deficit proved too much to overcome, particularly as North Branford continued to swing hot sticks.
North Branford's Sydney Senerchia tossed four innings to earn the victory and also helped her own cause with a two-run single in the first.
"I feel really good; it wasn't just me though. It's the entire team effort," Sydney Senerchia said.
"That's the best part when you get to go out there and pitch with a five-run lead. It was really important, and tomorrow we really need to bring our A-game."
With her team up 9-4 going into the fifth, Senerchia turned the game over to relief pitcher Angelina Ramada, who handled the final two innings to pick up the six-out save.
Although he indicated that his team was up against faster pitching than usual, Darien coach Chris Lopiano would like to see a more aggressive approach when his team takes the field Saturday in an elimination game.
"They have what it takes once they get in the box and hit the ball. That's our biggest fight that we're trying to overcome," Lopiano said. "They're young kids and they don't see this level of pitching a lot. They had more hits than us and that's the difference in the game."
North Branford's first five batters scored in the top of the first, as a trio of walks by Madison Blakesly, Alexa Gallo and Danielle Ramada were followed up by a pair of singles by Olivia Affinito and Senerchia. Darien got one back in the bottom of the frame when Keilani Caruso singled in Hailey King, who had drawn a leadoff walk.
Affinito picked up an RBI single in the top of the second to push North Branford's lead to 6-1, and it would stay that way until Darien put a three-run rally together in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a two-run single by Deirdre DiMarco and an RBI single by King.
A three-run fifth inning gave North Branford some breathing room at 9-4, as Danielle Ramada notched an RBI single, and Marissa Terraiolo closed out the scoring at 10-4 with an RBI groundout in the sixth.
Angelina Ramada pitched a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth to seal the win.
"We got a couple runs back, just kept trying and trying and the girls showed a lot of heart," Lopiano said. "They're a tough team."
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North Branford 10, Darien 4
NORTH BRANFORD 510 031--10 7 2
DARIEN 103 000--4 4 4
Records: North Branford 1-0, Darien 0-1. Batteries: NB--Sydney Senerchia (W), Angelina Ramada (S) and Alexa Gallo; D--Isabel Larino (L) and Hailey King. Highlights: NB--Senerchia got the win and struck out eight while hitting a two-run single. Olivia Affinito had two singles, an RBI, a run and a stolen base. Britney Godfrey had two singles, an RBI a run and two stolen bases. D--Larino pitched a complete game and struck out five. Deirdre DiMauro had a two-run single. Keilani Caruso had an RBI single and a run scored.