With pool play already in the rearview mirror at the 9/10 Little League Softball Eastern Regional in Old Forge, Penn., no team has been more impressive than Cranston National Budlong.
The Rhode Island state champions won all three of their pool play games, making it the only undefeated team in New England and earning it a spot in the regional semifinals on Thursday.
CNB has outscored its opponents 30-5 in the three victories, two of which have come by mercy rule.
“The race was so tight going into the states with West Side,” said CNB manager Tom Lewandowski. “We knew we had a great team, but we didn’t expect to mercy rule the first two teams that we faced.”
While its offensive output has been impressive, dominant pitching has been the key for CNB thus far. Ava Brandow, Sophia Ferry, Sophia DiPippo and Josie DiTroia have all contributed on the mound.
Brandow was the team’s primary pitcher during the district and state tournaments, but on the bigger stage, Lewandowski has shown no hesitance in using all his arms.
“We didn’t know we were actually going to go out and play at the level that we’ve been playing at,” Lewandowski said. “I wanted every girl to experience a starting role at regionals. It’s paid its dividends.”
First it was Brandow, who pitched a no-hitter in the team’s opening game, a 10-0, four-inning victory over Maine on Saturday. Brandow had nine strikeouts in that game.
The next day, Ferry and DiPippo combined on a second consecutive no-hitter in a 15-3, four-inning win over Vermont. Ferry struck out seven batters, while DiPippo struck out a pair.
Finally, on Monday, CNB got a test from North Branford, Conn., but came away with a 5-2 win on the strength of a complete-game effort from DiTroia. She allowed only four hits and struck out 11.
In three games, CNB’s four pitchers have given up just four total hits.
“All our pitchers pitched, and each girl really had a dominating performance, which was great,” Lewandowksi said.
There have been stars with the bats too, up and down the lineup. In game one, Emily Durigan and Delaney Doidge each had two hits, including a triple each, while Sydney Casale broke out in a big way in the next two games.
Casale hit a home run and a double in the win over Vermont, while knocking in three runs. The next day, she hit two triples and a double, scored two runs and drove in three.
“I had her leadoff yesterday because she’s been hitting so well,” Lewandowski said. “She can kind of get everything started.”
Casale’s performance – and the whole team’s effort – in the win over Connecticut was key, as it was easily the team’s most difficult game, yet CNB rose to the occasion.
Connecticut went up 2-0 in the top of the first inning, and the score was tied 2-2 after the home half, but DiTroia didn’t allow another run the rest of the way. CNB, meanwhile, broke the deadlock in the fourth inning with a run, and then plated two more in the fifth to give itself a little breathing room before it finished off the victory.
“We kind of looked at it each other and said, ‘Oh this going to be a tight game,’” Lewandowski said. “I kind of expected our bats to be a little more fluid, but we had key hits in key moments that made the difference.”
Other standout performances at the plate so far at the regional came from Ferry and Durigan against Vermont, as they each had a double and a single. In the field, Liz Lewandowski stood out against Connecticut, making five plays in the field from second base.
Essentially, CNB has played near perfect softball.
“We couldn’t ask for anything better, it’s been awesome,” Tom Lewandowski said.
Now, CNB is two wins away from a regional title. As the top New England seed, it will square off against the No. 2 seed from the Mid-Atlantic – which was yet to be determined as of press time, but will likely be Pennsylvania or New York – on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. The winner of that game will play Friday at 7 p.m. for the championship. The loser will play in a consolation game on Friday.
It’s hard not to be excited, as CNB can see the finish line and the potential to raise a trophy as the best team on the East Coast.
“Every team coming out of the Mid-Atlantic are very tough teams,” Lewandowski said. “We’re going have to bring our ‘A’ game if we want to continue on to Friday.”