Semifinal thriller for Lions

Dani Kemp belted a three-run home run in the sixth inning, propelling Foran to a 5-4 win over Maloney in the Class L softball semifinals at Biondi Field in West Haven.

Foran trailed fifth-seeded Maloney of Meriden (20-3) by two runs heading into the top of the sixth on June 4, and tied the game at 2 on Suzie Anthony’s two-run opposite-field single to right.

Kemp, the lead-off batter, then crushed a three-run shot to right-center to stake the Lions to a 5-2 edge.

“I really felt we were going to get some swings,” Foran coach Jeff Bevino said. “We’ve been swinging the bats well lately, it’s usually our second and third time seeing the pitchers.

“We’ve been doing that throughout this tournament... That’s why I didn’t bunt early, I wanted them to get our swings.”

Maloney rallied in its final at-bat, with Kaitlyn Jiminez driving in two runs on a two-out single. With the potential tying and game-winning runs on third and first base respectively, Foran ace Jess Harkness struck out Sarah Coleman swinging to punch the Lions’ tickets to the final.

“Jess got it straightened out when she had to,” Bevino said.

Foran has been to the state final three years in a row.

“I said, ‘You guys have got to be proud of yourselves,’” Bevino said of the string of finals appearances. “They’re doing it, I’m just here for the ride.”

Anthony had three hits for the Lions, while Marissa Bruno and Ashley Mendillo added two hits apiece. Harkness struck out 11, walked four and scattered seven hits.

Harkness gave up a pair of runs in the first inning, when walks to Ariele Virgulto and Jillian Bedard proving to be costly.

Virgulto drew a lead-off walk, then stole second base. With one out, Bedard walked — with courtesy runner Colleen Gaffey coming in to run.

The Spartans then executed a double steal, with Kemp’s throw from behind the plate sailing wide of the bag at third and careening into left field.

That allowed Virgulto to score and Gaffey to advance to third. Jiminez then singled, pushing Maloney’s margin to 2-0.

Coleman followed with a base hit, but Bruno turned a double play on Gabriella Graham’s grounder up the middle to keep the Lion deficit at two runs.

Foran put runners aboard in every inning until it broke through in the sixth, stranding seven runners through five frames.

Mendillo led off the sixth with a single, before Gina Georgetti, back after a lengthy injury absence, was robbed of a base hit on a diving force play by Virgulto at shortstop.

Amanda Portoff came on to run for Georgetti, before Jenna Zacarelli and Bryzy Gonski hit back-to-back singles to load the bases for Anthony.

The senior designated player delivered, driving a two-run single to right field to tie the game at 2.

“She’s got to be the best number-nine hitter around,” Bevino said.

Kemp then put the Lions ahead for good, taking a Bedard fastball and lining it over the fence in right-center field.

Bruno flied out to right for the second out, before Fallon Bevino smacked a double to left field. She was caught stealing by Graham, the Spartan catcher, to the end the inning.

Jiminez singled for Maloney with one out in the bottom of the sixth, lining a single off of Harkness’ protective mask. A two-out single by Graham gave Maloney runners at the corners, but Harkness rebounded to strike out Victoria Bucchieri to end the inning.

Foran then withstood Maloney’s final stand in the bottom of the seventh, earning its spot alongside Masuk in the state final.

“I guess we had to make it exciting,” Jeff Bevino said.