Pictured: Mercy’s Alexa Boone ran into trouble early in a 4-1 loss to Sacred Heart but finished up strong. The senior left-hander struck out 12.
By Paul Augeri
MIDDLETOWN – As Mercy develops as a unit this season, coach Tony Calcagni says the diamond will be a classroom of sorts most days.
Subscribing to his theme, then, if the Tigers learned two lessons in Monday’s game against Sacred Heart Academy, they might be: One, keep the leadoff batter from reaching; and two, communicate at all times.
Sacred Heart’s small-ball approach generated every run in its 4-1 SCC interdivision win at Paul LaBella Field. The Sharks had just two bunt hits and a clean single off hard-throwing Mercy left-hander Alexa Boone, who struck out 12, but their opportunism ruled the day.
“We’re a work in progress, but I’m proud of my kids,” Calcagni said. “They didn’t quit and say, ‘Oh, we can’t win today because we fell behind.’ They battled. That’s high school softball.”
Mercy (2-2) surrendered three runs in the first inning without allowing a hit. Boone walked leadoff batter Bella Saracco, who advanced to third when Anne Plunkett’s bunt was dropped on a mix-up in coverage at first base.
Saracco scored on a passed ball and Plunkett later crossed the plate on a wild pitch. Winning pitcher Amanda Savinelli, who walked and stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on Mercy catcher Sophia Engels’ toss back to the mound.
Boone, who will play in college at Eastern Connecticut, went on to strike out the next three batters.
“That’s how they expect to score and everybody knows it, so it’s a matter of who can defend it or do they execute it,” Calcagni said. “Today, you tip your hat that they executed and bunched a couple of runs, and that’s all that was needed.”
The three runs proved to be enough for Savinelli, who allowed four hits in going the distance. When Mercy hitters got their timing down and threatened in the final three innings, Sacred Heart made a couple of outstanding plays in the field for the team’s third win in four games.
“We knew what they were going to go,” Calcagni said. “They were a talented team and their small ball is excellent. We practice against it, but we can’t practice against it with game speed. I have a freshman, a sophomore and a first-year first baseman, and their communication (which led to the error at first), has to get better.
“But we picked it up as the game went along. Not just this team, but every team, if we keep the leadoff hitter off the bases, statistics tell you you’re going to have a pretty good inning. Of course, right away, they get some runners on and it kind of took the wind out of ours sails with them getting ahead.”
In the third, Saracco again walked to start things off. She advanced on two wild pitches and ended up scoring when the Tigers could not make a play on the bunt that Plunkett dropped down in front of the plate.
Outside of the first and third innings, Mercy’s defense was solid and Boone was close to unhittable – and the Tigers’ coach saw a lot of good things with that.
“I’m really proud of my kids because we kind of held Sacred Heart at bay the rest of the game,” Calcagni said. “We hit a couple of at-‘ems that, if a couple of those fall in the last inning, it could have been a very interesting game.”
Mercy’s offense came to life sooner than that, in the fifth, only to be denied by Sacred Heart’s defense. Freshman Katelyn Bailey led off with a line drive off the fence in right-center for a long single. After Paige Frederick fouled out to first, Sophia Engels poked a dying liner to right that looked as if it would fall in, but Lauren Fitzgerald went to her knees and came up with the out.
Fitzgerald thwarted the Tigers immediately thereafter when she forced Bailey at second after fielding Jasmine Mendez’s single.
“The defense was behind (Savinelli) today,” Sharks coach Al Ramelli said. “They’ve been getting better and better every game. All of them played well, especially (Fitzgerald), who came up with clutch plays. It was an all-around team effort.”
Mercy got around on Savinelli in the sixth, but Sacred Heart’s infield made the plays, the highlight being third baseman Jillian Cofrancesco lunging to her right to snare Nicole Saraceno’s line drive.
In the seventh, Ashley DeLuca doubled to left-center with one out and scored the Tigers’ only run on a single by Bailey. Savinelli got the final two outs without issue.
Savinelli was coming off a 3-0 loss on Sunday against East Haven, which needed 10 innings last week to beat Mercy. Savinelli allowed only one earned run in that game.
“She pitched a great game against a great East Haven offense,” Ramelli said. “She did what she did today and I’m proud of her.”
Ramelli said he knew the Sharks would not have an easy go against Boone.
“She’s probably the only (left-hander) we are going to face this year,” he said. “We faced here when she was a freshman and sophomore. She’s a pain to play against. She throws with velocity and likes to go low and away. If a kid likes to pull the ball, she’s not going to have an easy time with her.”
SHA 301 000 0 4-3-0
Mer 000 000 1 1-4-1
Batteries: SHA–Amanda Savinelli and Adrianna Ramos; M–Alexa Boone and Sophia Engels. WP: Savinelli; LP: Boone. Records: SHA 3-1; Mercy 2-2.