Masuk Panthers win 5th straight state championship

STORRS, CT — For the fifth time in a row Masuk High’s softball team is the best in the state, capturing yet another Class L State Tournament championship.

The No. 4 Panthers shut out No. 3 Jonathan Law of Milford in a morning date at the University of Connecticut on Saturday.

Sophomore, Julia Bacoulis allowed only two hits and threw a complete game shutout with eight strikeouts.

Sofia Lieto was hit by a pitch to start the top of the fourth inning. Grace Ely sacrificed, reached first on an error and advanced Lieto to second. Lieto and Ely then advanced to second and third on a wild pitch.

Madison Aguirre singled on a hit to centerfield and Sofia Lieto and Grace Ely scored to put the Panthers up 2-0.

In the top of the fifth, Izzy Viglione doubled on a line drive to centerfield. Alyssa Castillo bunted her over to third and Viglione scored on a passed ball to add another run for the Panthers.

Julia Bacoulis went 1-for-2 with a line drive to left field and Ella Bunovsky went 2-for-3 with two singles.

It might be Masuk’s fifth state title in the last six years (in 2020 nobody came out on top due to COVID protocol), but this one has as much meaning as any of the others for the coaching staff. And the campaign had a bit of a different feel with Head Coach Leigh Barone away from the team part of the time when she welcomed a new baby into her world.

“This year was obviously a little different with me being out for a little after having Layton,” Barone said. “Assistant Coach Emily Woznick filled in for me while I was out, alongside our assistant coaches Brittany DaMota, Ariella Apodaca and Robert Farmer. After starting out the season for a couple of weeks, the players had to adjust to a new coach. Then, after just about six weeks they had to make adjustments again when I came back.”

From a softball standpoint, there are typically some changes and this spring was no exception with a new starting pitcher as part of a lot of overall youth on the field.

“Another thing that is a little different for us this year is our pitching staff. We usually have at least two pitchers, one upperclassman and one underclassman,” Barone said. “This year we had three pitchers, two sophomores (Julia Bacoulis and Madison Aguirre) and a freshman (Grace Ely).”

“Last year, Julia Bacoulis was our starting shortstop with Kat (Gallant) on the mound. Julia had previously been in this pressure situation with a state title on the line, just in a different position,” she said. “As only a sophomore, she was able to handle pressure situations with runners in scoring position very well and I could not be more proud of her. She trusted her defense behind her to make plays if the ball was put into play, which they did.”

“Since she was on the mound for a majority of games this year, her shortstop position was again filled with a freshman (Grace Ely) who has worked hard all season and has become another leader on our team,” Barone said. “We are also overall a very young team with two seniors, three juniors, four sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.

Barone is thrilled this version of the Panthers came out of top.

“I am so proud of them for continuing the winning tradition,” she said. “They have worked hard as a team all season and that was demonstrated in today’s game. Overall, pitching was solid, defense was strong, and our offense was able to execute with runners in scoring position against a great Law team.”

“The team faced a lot of adversity this year and lost some games to solid teams (Ludlowe, Southington, Newtown),” Barone said. “They learned from these games and grew as a team and that makes this win special for them.”

What was unique about this team is that we saw all players work hard to be a leader in multiple ways,” Woznick added. “Having a mostly underclassmen infield, they had to take charge and they rose to the occasion. These players stepped up and provided the vocal and physical presence we needed on the field to be a threat this season. While next year we lose two key senior players, there is a lot to be said for the cohesion these underclassmen have created.”

Woznick said she could not be more proud of the group which bounced back from a South-West Conference championship game defeat to Newtown with an impressive run through the state bracket.

“These girls had to overcome so much to get to this point,” she said. “This year they were faced with a lot of adversity, on and off the field, and they came together as a team, as a family, to come out on top.”

“Softball opens the door to meeting incredible individuals, and these girls truly felt the impact of the sense of community and camaraderie that this game can provide,” Woznick said. “I am incredibly proud of this team and lucky to be a part of the coaching staff here at Masuk.”

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