Elza’s blast powers Bristol to district final

WARREN – Bristol Panthers softball coach Debbie Rowles knew that Laurin Elza has the power to reach the fences.

Rowles may not have known that Elza packs enough punch to reach the parking lot behind the left-field fence at the Candlelite Knolls facility. Elza broke a scoreless tie and nearly broke a car window with a solo homer in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Panthers starting pitcher Ashlyn Slusher retired the side in order in the top of the seventh to give the Panthers a 1-0 win in a Division IV district semifinal game.

Elza was thinking single or maybe double when she stepped into the batter’s box with one out in the sixth. She found a fastball from Rockets pitcher Brooke Dawson to her liking and turned on it.

“Nope, just a base hit,” Elza replied when asked if home run was on her mind.

Rowles was also hoping that Elza could simply get on base. Rowles wasn’t surprised by the home run, but she was surprised by the distance.

“She hit one Thursday night against Southington,” Rowles said. “She’s like that little silent power hitter.”

The Panthers (17-2) advanced to today’s final to meet the Mathews Mustangs. Mathews advanced with an 8-1 win over the Windham Bombers.

Slusher had some problems in the early innings as both teams struggled to get settled. The Rockets (15-8) left four runners on base in the first two innings and nine for the game. Six of the runners were in scoring position.

“Everybody needed to get going,” Slusher said. “Once we started hitting her (Dawson), we felt more comfortable.”

Slusher spread out seven singles. She struck out seven and didn’t allow a walk.

Dawson matched Slusher pitch for pitch until the sixth. Dawson allowed five hits while striking out 10 and walking two.

Like Slusher, Dawson had to work out of trouble in the early going. The Panthers loaded the bases with two outs in the top of the first inning when Megan Adams singled, Kylie Stoneman was hit by a pitch and Elza walked. Dawson struck out Slusher to end the threat.

Lauren Slusher singled and Steffanlee Markowitz reached on an error leading off the second for the Panthers. Stephanie Hulick popped up to catcher Emilei Peterson, who threw to center fielder Miranda Wood covering second to double up Lauren Slusher.

Dawson and Taylor Lewis had infield singles to lead off the game. Ashlyn Slusher struck out Ryley Urchek and Peterson before retiring Wood on an infield pop up.

Kassandra Scott singled and Allison Bell reached on an error leading off the second for Maplewood. Rayelle Keeney advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt, but Danielle Elwood struck out and Dawson grounded out.

When both pitchers settled down, it became apparent the outcome might come down to one key hit.

“I knew the way we started off and they started off, whoever scored was pretty much going to take the game,” Rowles said. “It would be a 1-0 or 2-0 game.”

She couldn’t have been more right.