Montville - Chances are that Platt Tech, Trinity Catholic, Stafford and Canton were not aware of Rivakah Berkman prior to losing to her over the last couple of weeks.
Here's what they know now about Berkman, the St. Bernard School senior pitcher who has her team in the Class S state championship game at 7 tonight at West Haven High School, meeting No. 2 Coginchaug of Durham.
"She's very smart. Sometimes she outthinks me," St. Bernard coach Jeff Mauri said Thursday, following the Saints last practice of year. "When she's on, she's on and during the tournament she's been phenomenal."
"Her passion," said assistant coach Brittany Connors, a former Waterford pitcher who's competed in a few big games herself, asked what you first notice about Berkman. "She's one of the people that wants to be here every minute of every practice."
Berkman, from New London, attended New London High School as a freshman and The Williams School as a sophomore. She transferred to St. Bernard in the middle of her junior year, in time for softball, and won the position of starting pitcher. This year, her sister Shoshana Berkman, followed her to St. Bernard and became the starting catcher.
Rivkah bats cleanup and is hitting .325 with a team-high 25 RBI. Pitching, she is 13-7 with a 1.51 earned run average, 139 strikeouts and 27 walks in 130 innings. Shoshana hits out of the No. 7 spot and has 18 RBI, despite missing three weeks after a foul ball missed her chest protector and hit her clavicle.
No. 20 St. Bernard was 11-9 during the regular season and didn't earn a berth in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament despite beating Plainfield, which did make the tournament, twice.
Playing with a bit of a "vendetta," as Mauri called it, the Saints (15-9) haven't lost since.
In Class S, Rivkah Berkman pitched a four-hitter in a 14-3 first-round win over No. 13 Platt Tech with 13 strikeouts and no walks. In the second round, she followed with nine strikeouts and no walks in a 4-2 victory over No. 29 Trinity Catholic, a game in which she also drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth inning.
That brought the Saints to the quarterfinals, where they beat No. 5 Stafford 5-2 in nine innings. Berkman struck out six and allowed just two hits over the final seven innings. In the semis, she walked three and struck out two, as St. Bernard knocked off No. 8 Canton 8-0.
That's 31 strikeouts. Four victories. And today the Saints will attempt to win the program's first state championship.
"I've only been coaching her for two years," Mauri said of Rivkah Berkman. "I think about her when I think about Tara (Kowalski) and Melissa (Halloran, the other two seniors). It seems like she's been here for four."
"I just felt better here. I liked it here," Berkman said. "It was just because of the academics. I knew Mena (Buscetto, the Saints' second baseman) and Jordan Buscetto (who transferred to Old Lyme after last year) and that was about it."
Berkman fit in quickly. She also hopes to play next year for Rhode Island College, where she'd like to "do something with archeology and history."
She describes Shoshana as her best friend. Even though she's 18 and Shoshana's 14, her younger sister has been her catcher ever since she can remember. The sisters also sail together in the community boating program at Green Harbor Beach in New London, where Rivkah is an instructor.
Coginchaug (22-4), the 10-time Class S champion, is playing in its first state championship game since 2009, a 4-2 loss to Canton. The Blue Devils lost to Waterford 13-2 this season.
St. Bernard has only been to one final, losing to Terryville 2-0 in 2010.
"I guess I used to look at ourselves as underdogs," Berkman said. "But now we're really a good team and we know that we're not underdogs."
Connors pitched for Waterford in the 2007 state championship game. Her advice for Berkman today?
"Light up no matter what happens," Connors said. "Have fun. This is the furthest we can go."