Pictured: From left, Caley Napoletano (2), Bella Richwine (14), Brooke Hickman and Keira Czarkowski (7) were among the Cougars celebrating their sixth straight win Wednesday. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

HIGGANUM – Haddam-Killingworth softball coach Jeff Talbott hunkered down in the corner of the dugout – his “lucky spot,” he calls it — calmly pulling for reliever Brooke Hickman to deliver strikes in the seventh inning against Old Lyme.

Hickman fell behind in the count to two of the last three Wildcat batters of the game, but the sophomore right-hander settled down, put the ball in the strike zone and watched her defense do the rest as H-K held on for a 5-4 Shoreline Conference win Wednesday.

“I was saying to myself, ‘Come on, throw a strike.’ And she did,” Talbott said.

Sophomore Brooke Hickman recorded the final five outs in H-K’s 5-4 win. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Before Hickman came onto the scene, H-K (6-0) was cruising behind junior left-hander Kaleigh Bodak, who struck out 13 and had a 5-0 lead entering the sixth inning. But the Wildcats’ offense, held to three hits at that point, adjusted to Bodak.

A leadoff bunt single from Ava Roth, followed by a stolen base and throwing error, had her at third base. She scored from there on a medium fly to center off the bat of Victoria Gage. Emma Bayor followed with a base hit to right and Jenna Schauder reached on an error, and both came across on Jamie Bucior’s triple to deep right to make it a 5-3 game.

Talbott turned to Hickman, who promptly retired Maddie Hubbard on a grounder to second, although Bucior scored to pull Old Lyme within a run. Lauren Creagan grounded to second to end the inning.

H-K starter Kaleigh Bodak was dominant through the first five innings. She struck out five straight Old Lyme batters on two occasions and finished with 13 K’s in 5 1/3. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

After H-K stranded two runners on in its half of the sixth, the Wildcats stirred again in the seventh. Anna Eichholz reached on a one-out comebacker that eluded Hickman for an error. This might have left Talbott covering his eyes with Roth coming to bat — Old Lyme’s leadoff hitter was the toughest out of the game with three singles already. But her sharp bouncer to short was fielded cleanly by freshman Caley Napoletano, who flipped to Keira Czarkowski for the second out.

On a 1-0 pitch, Gage laced a ground ball directly at Ivy McNiel, who stepped on first base to keep H-K’s season-opening, six-game winning streak intact.

“I thought Kaleigh was working hard and I let her go in the sixth as far as she could,” said Talbott. “I thought she pitched terrifically and I’m really proud of Brooke because Brooke has had limited action. I told her I wanted to make her a closer in high school, if there is such a thing, to come in and finish games. She showed it to me today.”

The Cougars left their home field as the Shoreline’s lone unbeaten. The Wildcats, fresh off a walk-off win over Coginchaug a day earlier, suffered their first loss in five games. Meanwhile, in Durham, Coginchaug (3-1) sent Cromwell (5-1) to its first defeat, beating the Panthers 5-0 behind the two-hit pitching of senior Janna Jose.

Wildcats leadoff batter Ava Roth drops down a bunt for one of her three hits in Wednesday’s game. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

“The kids put the bat on the ball, we played good defense except for a couple plays there, and we had timely hitting and good baserunning,” said Talbott, who watched practically this same roster win its first 10 games last season. “(Old Lyme) made a couple of errors that helped us out early. I saw them play against Coginchaug and knew they would be a battle. Them being 5-0, it was a big game for us. I’m happy with the win.”

Bodak, who was charged with all four runs (two earned) on six hits and no walks, was an occasional starter last season. She has looked every bit the team’s ace this month and one of the top arms in the conference.

“I felt really good,” she said. “We’ve been coming off a lot of good wins and for those first five innings we had it very together. We played good defense and I was pitching well. My screwball was working well for most of my strikeouts. I’d been throwing a lot of the same pitches throughout the first five innings, so I think they timed me. I could have mixed it up a little bit more.”

Bodak said she is stronger physically and mentally than she was at this time last season, and “I’ve been throwing my pitches more consistently with less walks and more strikeouts.”

She also hailed Hickman’s performance.

“She did really good,” Bodak said. “That helps a lot of have good pitchers behind you when you struggle a little bit. She did very well.”

“Brooke has a great arm. We’ve been working on throwing strikes and getting ahead of the batters. I’ve used her as a hitter, too. She had five RBIs a couple of games ago. She’s getting her timing down with hitting and is just another (young player) who is waiting on the doorstep to come in.”

H-K took a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Bayor and the Wildcats’ defense. Chey LaTouche’s hard-hit leadoff single into right field was misplayed for a three-base error for the first run. Annabelle Zajac followed LaTouche by ripping a line drive that tailed to the corner in right field, allowing her to circle the bases easily.

The Cougars played small ball to get their third run of the game. In the third, Audrey Snyder was hit by a pitch, moved up to second on Bella Richwine’s groundout and took third on a wild pitch. She scored on McNeil’s grounder to short.

H-K added two runs in the fourth. With one out, Bodak, Czarkowski and Bella LaTorre hit consecutive singles. LaTorre’s hit scored courtesy runner Hannah Riley and Czarkowski scored on a fielding error on the same play.

Bayor allowed three earned runs on six hits, walked two and struck out seven.

“They’re a good team. That’s why they’re 6-0,” Old Lyme coach Tim Gavin said, “and you can’t give good teams extra bases. You can’t give them extra runs. And that’s what we did. If we kept the ball in front of us it might have been a little bit different outcome.

“But I was happy with our group. They could have just rolled over at 5-0 going to the sixth. They showed some real toughness. I’m proud that they dug down and didn’t roll over. Emma pitched a good game and stayed strong. H-K hit the ball hard. They take good rips at the ball. They deserved it today.”

Old Lyme…….000 004 0–4 6 2
Haddam-Kill..021 200 x–5 7 2

Batteries: Old Lyme–Emma Bayor and Grace Paneuf; HK–Kaleigh Bodak, Brooke Hickman (6) and Madison LaTouche. WP: Bodak; LP: Bayor; S: Hickman.

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