Milford Little League softball wins 4th straight state title to advance to East Regional

Photo of Sean Barker

BRISTOL — Mike Bonanno recalls sitting in his kitchen last July after Maryland rallied for three runs over the final two innings to eliminate Milford from the East Regional of the Little League Softball World Series.

Bonanno coached the 11-U Milford team to the state title in 2021. He knew he had significant talent moving up to the 12-year old division to complement two returning players. Bonanno knew then the goal was to get back the East Regional.

“We’ve been calling it the redemption tour,” Bonanno said after Milford defeated Wallingford 9-4 Saturday at Rockwell Park to claim the program’s fourth-straight Little League division state title. “The girls have been committed, determined to win. Wallingford is a great team. We knew they were going to give us all they had. Wallingford came out strong, but (pitcher) Sophia (Horvack) settled down and found her groove.”

After Wallingford scored one run in each of the first two innings, Horvack retired 11 straight batters and 14 of the final 16.

“I just tried to focus,” said Horvack, who also had an RBI and scored a run. “Our defense is really good. The infield is really good. We’re all excited (to go to Regionals).”

Horvack, who started pitching when she was 9 and keeps hitters off balance with a curve, struck out two and induced 11 infield outs.

“We have contact pitchers,” Bonanno said. “They average about a strikeout an inning, opponents put the ball in play and we rely on our defense to make great plays.”

“She just cleared her mind and got in the groove,” catacher Ariella DiOrio said of Horvack. “Our defense was great. I know if she gives up a hit it will most likely be an out, or if not we’ll get out of the inning with just a run or two scoring. (Bristol) is going to be an experience, all rooming together. It’s going to be different. We’ll get to know each other better and bond.”

Milford, the District 4 champion, improved to 7-0 in the postseason. In their past five games they have walked two batters and not committed an error. Milford defeated Wallingford 9-1 in the opener of the state finals, then Preston/Jewett City 11-2 to advance to Saturday’s championship game.

Milford scored three runs in the bottom of the second, taking advantage of two hit batsmen and a bases loaded walk to take a 4-2 lead. Milford then erupted for four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, culminated by an inside-the-park grand slam by Lily Stankevich. The rocket down the right field line by Stankevich scored Riley Fagan-Davis (hit by pitch), Gabby Rodriguez (single) and Leah Corris (bunt single).

“It’s my job to get on base, to help the team win we need base runners,” said Rodriguez, who was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. “I am really excited to get back to Bristol (for Regionals). There will be very good teams there fighting it out. The all-around experience is a lot of fun. We’ll be together 24/7. It will be fun being there again.”

Milford advanced to the East Regional championship game in 2019, falling to Pennsylvania 3-2 in the championship game.

This year’s Little League Softball New England Regional begins July 23 at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center in Bristol. Connecticut will play the Rhode Island state champion at 4 p.m. July 23 on ESPN+.

“This team is just so good,” said first baseman Maddie Deldin. “We can just pick each other up. I just love them so much and we’re just really good defensively, which is kind of who we are. That’s what we do. It’s exciting, can’t wait to go back. It’s going to be hard, but I think we can do it. It’s a lot different. The crowds, the fact we’re going to be on TV. It’s a lot. And you just have to take that in and you have to have the right mindset to get ready for that. Being there with my team, bonding together. It’s going to be fun.”

Milford 9, Wallingford 4

Wallingford110 002 — 4 7 0

Milford130 41X — 9 10 0

Chloe Carling and Ava Sutera; Sophia Horvack and Ariella DiOrio