Pictured: Janna Jose’s postgame smile says it all after she led Coginchaug on the mound and at the plate in a 5-0 win over Cromwell. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

By Marc Silvestrini

DURHAM – Coach Angelo Morello brought a very good and undefeated Cromwell team to town Wednesday to play Coginchaug, the defending Class S champion, which had graduated several key players from last year’s title-winning team.

A few hours later, Morello’s Panthers were no longer undefeated.

“We knew this would be a difficult game for us because this is still Coginchaug, no matter how many good players they lost from last year’s team,” he said in the wake of Cromwell’s 5-0 loss. “Solid programs like Coginchaug don’t rebuild, they just reload.”

Cromwell’s Stephanie Esposito is out at first on a close play during Wednesday’s game. Emilie Hatje is Coginchaug’s first baseman. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

The Blue Devils, who improved their record to 3-1, got an outstanding performance from senior right-hander Janna Jose, who tossed a two-hit, complete game shutout, striking out four and walking five. She also went 3-for-3 at the plate with a double and two runs scored.

Meanwhile, she and her teammates reached Cromwell ace Lily Kenney – perhaps the best pitchers in the Shoreline Conference, if not the entire state – for 10 hits. It usually takes a month for Kenney to yield that many knocks.

“Give them (Coginchaug) credit, they made great contact all day,” Morello said. “They came out swinging and put the ball in play, right from the start. They weren’t intimidated at all. They just came out and totally outplayed us today.”

Coginchaug coach Steve DeMartino said his team had prepared well for Cromwell and specifically to face Kenney.

“We told them she threw strikes and she threw fast,” he said. “We told them that they were going to have to be aggressive and that we wanted them to swing at the first good pitch they saw.

“So we really dialed up the pitching machine and had them swinging away. As you saw, we had a lot of first-pitch hits today.”

That first-pitch hitting approach was evident in the bottom of the first inning.

Natalie Ness led off with a hard-hit grounder that resulted in an infield error, followed by a hard single by Ava Marenna that sent Ness to third. Jackie Kelly then hit a pop-up in back of second that was misplayed, allowing Ness to score.

Coginchaug’s Jackie Kelly stands in against Cromwell’s Lily Kenney during Wednesday’s Shoreline game in Durham. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

The Blue Devils would eventually load the bases with none out but failed to score again when Amanda Case’s low liner to third was turned into an inning-ending triple play by Panthers third baseman Samantha Smith, who caught the ball and stepped on third to double up one runner and threw across the diamond to first baseman Malena Signorello to end the inning.

Jose and Kenney then exchanged a pair of scoreless innings until Coginchaug struck again in the bottom of the fourth. Jose and Case led off the inning with consecutive singles, yet Kenney appeared to be about to work her way out of trouble when she got the next two Devil hitters.

But Coginchaug right fielder Tatum Hultgren then drilled a base hit past Smith at third to score Jose with the Blue Devils’ second run.

Jose’s toughest jam came in the top of the fifth when walks to Signorello and Stephanie Esposito, sandwiched around Smith’s sacrifice bunt, put runners on first and second with one out. But Jose retired the next two Panthers on a strikeout and a soft bouncer to the mound to end Cromwell’s best and last threat of the game.

The Devils then struck for three more runs in the last of the fifth to provide Jose with all the cushion she would need.

Kenney retired the first two batters of the inning before Jose lined a ringing double over the head of the center fielder. After an intentional pass to Case, Allison Strang belted a two-run triple to the alley in right-center, scoring Jose and Case, and Paige Konopka then dumped a single to short right to score Strange with Coginchaug’s fifth run of the day.

“I’m just very proud of the way we hung in there today against a great pitcher and played a very solid game to beat a great team,” DeMartino said.

When asked if this team, which many observers felt had lost too much talent to graduation, might indeed be better than most were expecting, DeMartino smiled.

“Let’s just say we could be a sleeper team,” he said.

Jose and Marenna each had three hits, including doubles, to lead Coginchaug’s 10-hit attack. Strang, with her two-run triple, Hultgren and Konopka, who each had RBI singles, and Case had the other hits.

Kenney and Grace McFarlin had Cromwell’s two hits while Kenney gave up 10 hits and five runs, only four of which were earned, in her six innings of work, fanning two and issuing no free passes.

“My arm feels a little like a gummy worm right now, but I’ll be fine by tomorrow,” said Jose, who pitched a complete game in Coginchaug’s 4-3 loss to Old Lyme Tuesday.

Jose played at Coginchaug her freshman year, sat out the next two while being home-schooled during the pandemic, and returned this year just in time to provide the Blue Devils with the ace they needed to replace the departed Kelly Boothroyd.

“My two-seamer and changeup were really working for me today,” she added. “And I really needed them because Cromwell is a very good team.”

Coginchaug will host Middletown on Thursday at 4 p.m. before traveling to Higganum to take on Haddam-Killingworth on Monday at 4 p.m. in what is shaping up to be a key early-season conference game.

Cromwell (5-1) will host Westbrook/Portland on Thursday at 4 p.m.

Cromwell…….000 000 0–0 2 3
Coginchaug…100 130 x–5 10 1

Batteries: Crom–Kenney and Wiatrak; Cog–Jose and Konopka. WP: Jose; LP:Kenney; 2B: Cog–Marenna, Jose; 3B: Cog–Strang. Records: Cromwell 5-1; Coginchaug 3-1.

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