Pictured: Jada Miconi motions toward the North Branford dugout after driving in her fifth run of Friday’s game at H-K. The Thunderbirds improved to 6-1 with a 12-7 victory.
By Paul Augeri
HIGGANUM – All is not lost for the Haddam-Killingworth softball team, whose season-opening winning streak ended at 10 with a 12-7 loss to North Branford on Friday.
“I expected a game like this some time because the kids are so young,” said H-K coach Jeff Talbott, whose Cougars fell behind 5-0 after four innings and were out of it at 12-0 when the Thunderbirds scored seven times in the sixth.
H-K scored four runs in the sixth and made it interesting with three in the seventh before winning pitcher Bella Hills got the final out on a ground ball.
“I take a lot out of the last two innings,” said Talbott, who has 315 career wins in the program. “Everybody was up and cheering, just as if it were a tie game or a close game. But after winning 10 you’re going to have a little off day.”
Meanwhile, the Shoreline Conference teams should pay heed to the 6-1 Thunderbirds, who have come on strong after a two-week COVID quarantine shutdown.
Senior Jada Miconi, who came up a single short of hitting for the cycle, drove in five runs and leadoff hitter Hanna Senerchia had two hits, drove in a run and scored three times as the Thunderbirds’ bats sliced their way through four H-K pitchers.
“They showed that they played hard-nosed, Thunderbird softball,” North Branford coach Nick DeLizio said. “H-K has been a great program. Last time we played them, at our place the second game of the season (an 11-4 Cougars win), they kind of punched us in the mouth a little bit. They have good pitching and quality hitting this year.
“The X factor today was definitely Bella (Hills) on the mound mixing up her pitches and hitting some spots. We had some big hits – Jada was tattooing the ball today for sure. And we just executed.”
Hills, a junior right-hander with a wicked change-up that kept many H-K hitters guessing Friday, scattered three hits through the first five innings before the Cougars caught up to her in the last two. She struck out 12.
This North Branford team is nothing like the 2019 squad that won the Shoreline title. That lineup was made up almost entirely of juniors and seniors. This year’s club, like most, has many first-time varsity players, including two freshmen, in the starting lineup.
The upperclassmen did most of the damage against the Cougars. The first four hitters in the lineup — Senerchia, Erica Piercey, Miconi and Sophia Ouellet — accounted for eight runs scored and seven RBIs.
In a scoreless third inning, Senerchia and Piercey both hit bloop singles that fell in the outfield. On a 3-2 pitch from H-K sophomore Kaleigh Bodak, Miconi drilled a ball off the top of the fence in right-center for a three-run home run. Bodak walked Ouellet, her final batter, and Ouellet eventually scored on a passed ball for a 4-0 North Branford lead.
“The two bloops and three-run homer really hurt,” Talbott said. “I thought one of the two could have been caught. Kaleigh pitched a good game. She was a little off in terms of her control. She usually doesn’t walk that many (three total), which hurt early on. It felt like the first three innings we were under pressure, under pressure, under pressure, and then they broke through like a floodgate.”
Miconi’s RBI triple in the fourth off of reliever Bella Richwine added to the T-Birds’ lead. Meanwhile, Hills was cruising. She allowed a one-out triple to Richwine in the third, but got out of the inning with a strikeout and groundout. She had eight strikeouts five innings.
North Branford batted around in the sixth, scoring seven runs. Senerchia and Miconi had RBI doubles and Hills and Lauren Ackerman had run-scoring singles.
H-K scored four runs in its half of the sixth to push the game out of mercy-rule territory, with Madison LaTouche and Annabelle Zajac providing RBI hits. Bodak, Keira Czarkowski and Ellie Frith drove in runs in the team’s three-run seventh.
DeLizio said the Thunderbirds were geared up for the game knowing H-K was undefeated.
“I told the girls, ‘Listen, the pressure’s on H-K,'” he said. “They’ve been playing very well. I’ve been in that situation too. They were kind of pumped up Friday in school. They were all happy. They were ready for the game. They were in game mode today and I’m really proud of the way they played.”
NB 004 107 9–12 10 2
HK 000 004 3–7 10 3
Batteries: HK-Kaleigh Bodak, Bella Richwine (3), Brooke Hickman (6), Ivy McNiel (7) and Madison LaTouche; NB–Bella Hills and Hanna Senerchia. WP: Hills; LP: Bodak. 2B: NB–Miconi, Senerchia; HK–McGlynn. 3B: NB–Miconi; HK–Richwine. LOB: NB-8; HK-7.