Pictured: H-K coach Jeff Talbott talks to his team shortly after its season ended with a 7-1 loss to Jonathan Law in the second round of the CIAC Class M tournament. With nine freshmen, five sophomores and four juniors returning next season, Talbott told his team to expect exciting things in the future.
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM — Haddam-Killingworth, a team that has relied heavily on a superb group of precocious freshmen all season long, was eliminated from the CIAC Class M tournament Wednesday by, of all things, another precocious freshman.
Jonathan Law of Milford freshman hurler Talia Salanto pitched the Lawmen to a 7-1 victory that sends her team into the tournament’s quarterfinal round Friday against another tough Shoreline Conference foe, North Branford, a 15-0 winner over Kaynor Tech of Waterbury.
Salanto, who was helped out by a pair of crisp double plays started by her shortstop, Madilyn Lula, plus Lula’s spectacular diving catch of a wicked line drive off the bat of Ivy McNiel, pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits and one run over seven innings of work. She fanned four and walked two.
H-K starter Kaleigh Bodak, a sophomore, surrendered four hits and three runs, two of which were earned, in four innings. She was relieved by freshman Bella Richwine in the fifth, who allowed six hits and four runs over the final three innings.
Richwine and McNiel — both of whom were named All-State performers this week — lead a group of nine freshmen who will join the team’s five sophomores and four juniors in forming what most expect will be a very competitive team next year.
Meanwhile, Ella McGlynn, the team’s lone senior, ended her career in an H-K uniform in style by belting a Salanto fastball into the left-center field gap and circling the bases for an inside-the-park, sixth-inning home run, accounting for the Cougars’ only score of the game.
“I told the girls after the game that I expect us to be back with a very strong team next year,” H-K coach Jeff Talbott said.
“Today we just didn’t get the job done,” he added. “We had some chances, we had some base runners, but every time we threatened them they seemed to come up with a great play. They can really play defense.”
Lula, who aside from her heroics in the field also had a pair of hits on the day, got the Lawmen on the board in the first inning by lining a two-strike pitch from Bodak to center to bring home Grace Kantor, who had led off the game with a single.
Moments later, with Salanto, who had walked, on third and Lula at first, Lula broke for second. H-K catcher Madison LaTouche, sensing a delayed steal, alertly threw to third instead of second in an attempt to catch Salanto leaning off the bag, but her throw sailed past Richwine, the third baseman, allowing Salanto to trot home with Law’s second run of the inning.
The Lawmen added to their lead in the fourth on a two-out RBI single by Sarah Paulus to make it 3-0 and then touched Richwine for a run in the sixth on Lula’s triple to deep left-center and a run-scoring single by Courtney Hanson.
Meanwhile, as Talbott would say after the game, the “softball gods” were not being particularly kind to the Cougars.
With the score still 3-0 in the bottom of the fifth, H-K appeared to be on the verge of staging a rally when three straight batters hit the ball hard against Salanto. Annabelle Zajac, another one of those precocious freshmen, led off the inning with a hard single and Madison LaTouche, another freshman, scorched a shot to Lula, who, unfortunately for the Cougars, quickly turned the hard-hit grounder into a 6-4-3 double play.
After Ellie Frith became the third straight Cougar to make solid contact, reaching base with a two-out single, Salanto issued her only two walks of the game to load the bases. Cheyenne LaTouche then lifted a fly ball to center which might have resulted in at least a sacrifice fly but only became the third out of the inning in the wake of Lula’s earlier double play.
One inning later, McGlynn’s homer cut the Law lead to 4-1, but the damage might have been greater if not for Lula’s diving grab of a scorched line drive off the bat of McNiel, the preceding hitter.
“It just wasn’t our day,” Talbott said. “But overall, I thought our kids did a great job this year. They won 16 of 20 games, they had a very successful season and we have so many of them coming back next year.
“It’s disappointing to have our season come to an end, but I think we can all feel pretty excited about the future.”
Zajac led H-K’s seven hit attack with a pair of singles while Cheyenne LaTouche, McNiel, McGlynn, Frith and Audrey Snyder had the other Cougar hits.
Nicolina Salanto, Talia’s older sister and catcher, paced the Law offense with two hits and three ribbies on a bases-loaded triple in the seventh. Lula and Hanson also had two hits apiece for the visitors.
“We had some very good at-bats today,” said Law coach Melanie Blude. “We got a pretty strong effort out of Talia and we made some really good plays on defense.
“H-K is a strong team and you really have to play well in all phases of the game if you want to beat them.”
As Talbott and his charges are hoping, that statement might even be more apropos next year.
JL 200 101 3–7 10 0
HK 000 001 0–1 7 1
Batteries: JL–T. Salanto and N. Salanto; HK–Bodak, Richwine (5) and M. LaTouche. WP: T. Salanto; LP: Bodak. 3B: JL–Lula, N. Salanto. HR: HK–McGlynn.
Records: Law 16-6; H-K 16-4.