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Weekend warriors! Milford All-Stars' ability to adapt leads to opening-round regional sweep

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

By Rick Menning

BRISTOL, CT -- Locked in a low-scoring Little League Softball New England Region showdown with Vermont on Sunday afternoon, the Milford Major Division All-Stars displayed their all-around ability to do whatever it takes to win.

Need a productive two-out run eruption as was the case in Saturday's 12-1 victory over Rhode Island? Check.

Need a solid pitching performance in either a starting or relief role throughout their nine-game All-Star tournament winning streak? Check.

Need to make one highlight-reel fielding gem after another in a close contest like Sunday's 4-1 triumph vs. Vermont? Check and checkmate.

The Milford All-Stars can hear the cheers from the Connecticut bleachers as they walk off the field after the final out in Sunday's pivotal win against Vermont. Next up is a Tuesday prime-time matchup with Maine on ESPN+.

When the Connecticut state champions take the field, they have shown they can adapt to whatever style of play is necessary to get the job done.

Grinding it out against very tough Vermont pitcher Destiny Hendy, the Milford squad of 12-under ballplayers used an opportunistic three-run first inning and stellar defense the rest of the way to defeat Colchester 4-1.

That win -- which completed what manager Michael Bonanno termed "our goal of winning the weekend" in a post-game media interview -- puts Milford in a position to earn a berth in the New England Region championship game when it faces Buxton, Maine in an ESPN+ telecast on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

Parents, relatives, fans and supporters are likely to show up in big numbers for the prime-time attraction at the A. Bartlett Giamatti Little League Leadership Training Center.

Getting back to Sunday's game, Connecticut certainly showed its knack for rising to the challenge at hand as starting pitcher Maddy Bonanno overcame a no-out and two-on situation at the beginning but then retired the next eight batters (and 12 of the next 14 over the first four innings) to hold Vermont scoreless to that point in the contest.

Over that stretch, the Milford 'D' was especially sharp.

First baseman Maddie Deldin put the finishing touches to five putouts including great stretches to reduce the distance of pinpoint incoming throws from third baseman Julia Scibek and shortstop Gabby Rodriguez. Deldin also scooped up a hard grounder to first and stepped on the bag for an unassisted putout.

Milford All-Star third baseman Julia Scibek sends a rocket throw over to first base. She wound up starting three clutch putouts against Colchester.

"(Our infielders and outfielders) all ... made a ton of plays," Bonanno said. "Maddie (Deldin) fields the ball so well at her position and she made two or three plays that were great (with her stretches)."

Deldin likewise contributed with her bat as her bunt single to lead off Milford's half of the fourth inning led to the home squad tacking on another run.

Bonanno had high praise for Vermont's No. 2 hitter Taylor Davidson, who had three of her team's five hits

"She's the best hitter we have faced," he said. "We just couldn't get her out all afternoon."

Maddy Bonanno was key to keeping Colchester off the scoreboard with three of her strikeouts through those first four innings.

Meanwhile, Connecticut transformed four walks and an RBI infield hit by Lily Stankevich into a 3-0 first-inning lead. In all, eight batters stepped up at the plate in that opening frame.

Leadoff hitter Gabby Rodriguez, who also flashed the leather with a super catch on a line drive in the fourth inning, propelled a double in the second inning for Milford's only extra-base hit in the game.

Milford shortstop Gabby Rodriguez (left) and second baseman Lily Stankevich celebrate their solid play in anchoring an outstanding middle-infield 'D."

Vermont actually had one more hit than Milford, 5-4, in the game and that made all the fielding plays even more clutch to the final outcome.

In the top of the first inning, second baseman Lily Stankevich made a terrific catch on a soft infield liner. It was then Deldin's time to shine just two batters later when she stretched out to take a toss from Bonanno over at first for the 1-3 putout.

Stankevich transitioned from a great effort on the field to a great effort on the basepaths in the home half of the first inning. Following her infield hit, she showcased her speed by scoring all the way from second base on a wild pitch.

Connecticut All-Star Lily Stankevich positions herself to make the grab on a sinking liner for the first out in the first inning.

In fact, Milford's quickness and aggressiveness as a team was on display throughout the contest.

During Colchester's fifth inning, the visitors had a runner on first with no outs when Milford catcher Ariella DiOrio provided a web gem with a blistering throw down to second base that caught the Vermont runner trying to steal.

Center fielder Norah Bove had the Milford side of the bleachers cheering when she made a running catch on a sinking liner in the third inning.

On all of Vermont's hits, Bove along with left fielder Chloe Capalbo and right fielder Nyla Jaser made sure that the relays to the infield were crisp and on target to stop any Colchester threats. Nothing got by them the entire game.

Vermont nevertheless would not go quietly, but neither would Connecticut's glovework in the sixth inning.

The visitors did manage a run but it came on a fielder's choice as Milford gladly exchanged a run for an out being up 4-0 at the time.

After Colchester struck for two singles in its first three at-bats that inning. Bonanno bore down -- and with her infielders once again in brilliant mode -- she struck out the final batter to seal the deal on the 'W.'

Milford All-Star pitcher Maddy Bonanno has her game face on as she prapares to fire a strike to home plate. She ended the game with a special K to move Connecticut into Tuesday's clash with Maine.

Maddy Bonanno, who struck out four and walked only one batter in a complete-game performance, turned up the intensity after the first two Colchester runners reached base.

"After those first two batters got on, I knew I had to throw my hardest or at least the best I could to start getting outs," she said.

Bonanno has a routine where she walks around the back of the circle after every pitch, and will often kick a little dirt to motivate herself in a positive way between pitches.

Stankevich, who along with her run-scoring infield hit added a single and a stolen base in the second inning, twice scored on wild pitches.

Mid-Atlantic showdowns

Another highly anticipated game on Tuesday in Bristol features Delmar, Maryland going up against Tom's River, New Jersey in a Mid-Atlantic Region battle of unbeatens at 4 p.m. There is also a Mid-Atlantic elimination-bracket game at 1 p.m.

In the New England field, the teams from Rhode Island and Massachusetts have been eliminated from the regional competition.

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