Shoreline Foes Learning Fast: Young Cougars Are For Real

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Pictured: H-K freshman Bella Richwine, whose week included hitting for the cycle in one win and clubbing two home runs in another, capped her terrific week with three innings of scoreless relief and the win against Hale-Ray. (Marc Silvestrini photo)

By Marc Silvestrini
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

HIGGANUM — To say that the future looks bright for coach Jeff Talbott and the Haddam-Killingworth softball team would not be a slight understatement.

It would, in fact, be a colossal understatement.

H-K, a team that usually starts six freshmen and a sophomore, ran its record to 7-0 Friday with a 5-0 Shoreline Conference win over Hale-Ray. The Cougars started a freshman pitcher, Brooke Hickman, brought in another freshman, Bella Richwine in the fourth, and closed the game with sophomore Kaleigh Bodak.

Between them, the three young H-K hurlers limited the Noises to a single hit while striking out 17 and walking two.

“H-K is a very good team and you need to bring your level of intensity way up there when you play a team like that,” Hale Ray coach Steve Pernal said. “I thought our pitcher (Samantha LaFemina) did a real good job today — she pitched a strong game. But we didn’t give her any help because we had a lot of trouble getting our bats on the ball. We just have to do a better job of putting the ball in play.”

LaFemina did indeed pitch a strong game, marred by only one bad half-inning, the Cougars’ fourth, in which the home team scored four runs to break a scoreless tie. LaFemina scattered seven hits in six innings of work, fanning five and walking one.

Talbott, who took over the H-K program in 1999 and has now won 312 games at the school, faced a somewhat daunting task when he first assembled his team a few weeks back. Of the 20 players on his roster, 10 were ninth-graders and five were sophomores, which meant that he had literally never seen 15 of the 20 players on the club play so much as an inning, due to the pandemic-related cancellation of the 2020 season.

Fortunately, he soon discovered that his new team, though extremely young, was well-schooled in the finer points of softball, including the more subtle aspects of the game which often separate the good teams from the not-so-good.

“I was a little surprised when I saw the level of their skill and how good they were at the basics — things like bunting, running the bases, pickle plays and hitting the cutoff man,” he said. “We didn’t have to spend a lot of time working on those things with this group because they were already pretty far advanced.”

Many of his younger players have been playing on travel teams for years, and many of his ninth-graders played on a Little League team that made it all the way to the finals of the state softball tournament as 12-year-olds, he noted, refining their skills and picking up good coaching along the way.

In fact, his current team – his 23rd at the school – is so much fun to watch and enjoyable to coach that Talbott has swept aside any thoughts of retirement and plans to at least shepherd this freshman class through their four years of high school.

“I remember a few years ago – back when these freshmen were in middle school, I kept hearing from a lot of people who were telling me that I couldn’t leave until this group had come through,” he said. “Looks like they were right.”

Hale-Ray starter Samantha LaFemina pitched what her coach, Steve Pernal, said was a very good game Friday against H-K. LaFemina, who scattered seven hits in six innings of work, fanned five and walked one.

LaFemina and Hickman traded three straight scoreless innings to start Friday’s game. The Noises did manage to get two runners on base with one out in the second on a leadoff single by Jessica Stricker – Hale-Ray’s only hit of the day – and a one-out walk to Julie Campbell, but Hickman retired the next two batters to thwart the visitors’ first and best offensive rally of the afternoon.

Campbell — along with teammates Sarabeth Amenta and Brooke Linares — was one of three freshmen who started for the Noises Friday, meaning nine of the 19 players (H-K used a DH to bat for Hickman) who started the game were ninth-graders. H-K’s six freshman starters included Hickman and Richwine, Chey LaTouche, Ivy McNiel, Keira Czarkowski and Annabelle Zajac.

Richwine, the eventual winning pitcher, relieved Hickman in the top of the fourth, set the Noises down in order, and then opened the Cougar fourth by drawing a walk and stealing second. She scored the game’s first run when LaTouche singled sharply to center field. One out later, Bodak singled to right, sending LaTouche to third, and promptly stole second.

LaTouche scored on a fielder’s choice ground ball by Czarkowski, and both Bodak and Czarkowski came home on a two-out, opposite-field base hit by catcher Madison LaTouche.

Richwine, whom Talbott calls one of the best players he’s seen enter the program in his 23-year tenure, mowed the Noises down in the fifth and sixth before giving way to Bodak, who pitched a perfect seventh inning, fanning two.

“She can hit, she can field just about any position you put her at, she has a great arm …,” he said, speaking of Richwine. “I’m just sitting here looking forward to watching her and some of these other young people play for the next four years.”

Here’s how Richwine’s week has gone so far. On Tuesday she hit for the cycle in a 16-3 win over Valley Regional, becoming the only batter ever to do so in Talbott’s long coaching career. On Thursday she blasted two home runs in a 7-1 win over Old Lyme. On Friday she pitched three innings of hitless, shutout relief and notched the win while also scoring the game’s first run.

Fortunately for the rest of the Shoreline Conference, H-K has no game scheduled for Saturday.

Ella McGlynn, the only senior on the H-K roster, closed the scoring by ripping a double to deep center field with two out in the Cougar sixth, moving to third on Madison LaTouche’s second hit of the game and scoring on a wild pitch.

“Honestly, it’s been kind of fun,” McGlynn said of her leadership role on a team so loaded with underclassmen. “We (she and the four juniors on the roster) are trying to be strong role models for the younger guys. I would have liked to have had a few members of my own class on the team, but it’s been exciting to play with all these underclassmen. I’m having a lot of fun.”

Each of the LaTouche sisters had a pair of hits Friday to lead H-K’s seven-hit attack, while Bodak, McGlynn and Audrey Snyder had the other hits.

The Cougars have a key matchup on Monday against Coginchaug, one of the Shoreline’s early-season favorites, at 4 p.m. in Durham. Hale Ray, now 0-3 on the season, will host East Hampton/Portland on Saturday at 3 p.m.

LINE SCORE

HR 000 000 0–0 1 0
HK 000 401 x– 5 7 0
Pitchers
: HR – LaFemina; HK – Hickman, Richwine (4), Bodak (7). WP: Richwine; LP: LaFemina. 2B: H-K: McGlynn. Records: Hale Ray 0-3; Haddam-Killingworth 7-0.

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