Shoreline coaches are known to say that the conference is capable of surprises. Thursday was one of those days out on the diamond at Coginchaug Regional.
Cromwell, looking to shake off a slow start to the season, scored five runs in the first two innings and junior right-hander Zach Zajac pitched six strong innings as the Panthers knocked off the previously unbeaten Blue Devils 8-3 at Helmuth Brown Field.
Tino Gagliardi went 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs and Zajac limited the potent Coginchaug lineup to six hits, while walking three and striking out four, for his second victory of the season.
“We played a complete game for the first time all year, from the first to the seventh inning,” Cromwell coach Christian Budzik said.
The Panthers are 2-3 and have a chance to string together a few more wins in home games Friday (Westbrook, 4pm) and Saturday (North Branford, 10am).
“Coming in and playing an unbeaten team and us shutting them down just gives us motivation,” Zajac said after his fourth appearance of the spring (one in relief). “This (win) is huge for the team.”
“Before today, some kids looked very uncomfortable and not confident. After today, I saw some big smiles on faces.,” he added. “I hope this drives us forward and we keep winning.”
Cromwell got on the board in the first when Gagliardi singled home Elias DeLeon, who led off the game with a walk against starter Griffin Biro, and Justin Valentin (hit by pitch). Cromwell then pieced together three runs in the second for a 5-0 advantage.
Coginchaug (5-1) scored three runs in the bottom of the second, two on walks by Zajac.
“Even when they scored their three in second,” said Budzik, “two years ago all of these (Cromwell) kids were younger, and if that happened then it would have been a snowball effect, the wheels would have come off. But today they stuck with it.”
Zajac got out of the third with the lead intact and held Coginchaug scoreless over the next four innings.
“My first couple of innings were a little rough and I had to make adjustments,” he said. “Once I got out of the second inning it was smooth sailing from there.”
It was also nice to have a cushion on the scoreboard, he said.
“My first start (against Haddam-Killingworth), no run support,” he said. “We were just dead that game. Having a lead today was very helpful in the early innings.”
Brandon Berean pitched the seventh for the Panthers, striking out two.
DeLeon and Valentin scored two runs each for Cromwell, Ian McMillan had a double and drove in a run, and Tysen Billings and Brian Radziewicz each had an RBI.
Anthony Morro led Coginchaug’s nine-hit attack with three hits and Connor Willett contributed two. Willett pitched the final four innings in relief of Biro, who took the loss.
The Blue Devils visit East Hampton (2-2) on Friday (3:45pm).
In other area baseball games on Thursday, H-K defeated Old Lyme 8-5 and Valley Regional crushed Westbrook 17-2. The Portland at North Branford game was postponed, with a makeup date TBD.
H-K 8, Old Lyme 5
Alden Halfinger pitched 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out nine, and Alec Erskine steered the offense to help the Cougars rally past the Wildcats at home.
Erskine had two hits, scored three runs and stole two bases as H-K won its second straight, improving to 5-1. Callen Powers was 2 for 3 with a double, run scored and RBI,
Halfinger relieved starter Alex Sheehan in the second amid a five-run Old Lyme inning. He also double twice and drove in two runs.
The Cougars scored twice in the third to get within 5-4 before adding three runs in the fourth and one in the sixth. They finished with 10 hits.
Tait Sawden had two of Old Lyme’s three hits. The Wildcats fell to 2-4 after winning their previous two.