Pictured: Coginchaug catcher Paige Konopka (18) rushes to the mound to hug winning pitcher Janna Jose following the Blue Devils’ 7-5 win over H-K. Third baseman Ava Marenna, far left, is ready to join in on the celebration. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM – Call them the Giant Killers.
Fresh on the heels of its 5-0 victory over Cromwell last Wednesday, the Coginchaug softball team Monday scored a 7-5 win over Haddam-Killingworth, giving the Blue Devils a pair of wins against two of the very best teams the Shoreline Conference has to offer within a five-day span.
You can make that three wins in five days because the Blue Devils also recorded a 5-0 non-league win over Middletown in between those two key SLC wins.
The common denominator in the two conference wins was the strong pitching of senior right-hander Janna Jose, who followed her two-hit shutout against Cromwell last week with five more scoreless innings against the previously undefeated Cougars before surrendering five runs, three of which were earned, in the final two innings Monday.
The Blue Devils are now 5-1 on the season, and 4-1 in Shoreline Conference play. H-K falls to 7-1 overall and 6-1 in the conference.
Blue Devils first baseman Emilie Hatje, who had three hits and a pair of RBIs in the win over Middletown, continued her hot hitting with three hits and two more ribbies, hitting the ball hard in each of her four trips to the plate. She also made at least three outstanding plays with her glove, snatching three hard-hit liners to rob H-K batters of what could have been three extra-base hits.
“I was in a bit of a slump earlier in the season, but everything felt real good today,” she said. “I just kept telling myself that I’m a good hitter and it’s only a matter of time before I start hitting the ball, and now things are finally starting to get turned around.”
When asked how it felt to have just beaten Cromwell and H-K in back-to-back Shoreline games, she said the team feels like it’s been somewhat overlooked this year after losing three of its most talented players to graduation after winning the Class S championship last year.
“We’re always looked at as the underdogs,” she said. “No one seems to expect us to win and that really motivates us to do better and prove them wrong.”
Coginchaug jumped on Cougar ace Kaleigh Bodak for four runs – including two unearned runs – in the top of the second to stake Jose to an early lead.
Jackie Kelly led off the inning by blasting a triple to the gap in right-center and scored on a single to right by Amanda Case. A walk to Allison Strang followed by a sharp single to left by Hatje loaded the bases, but Bodak bore down and retired Tatum Hultgren on an infield fly and Paige Konopka on a fielder’s choice grounder back to the mound on which Bodak threw to catcher Madison LaTouche to force Case at the plate.
But just when it looked like Bodak would work her way out of trouble, she issued a two-out walk to Natalie Ness that brought home Strang with the second run of the inning. An infield error on a hard hit grounder to the left side then allowed two more runs to scamper home, putting the Cougars in a 4-0 hole.
Jose and Cougars reliever Bella Richwine traded a pair of scoreless innings until Kelly turned an infield grounder into a hustle double and the Cougars committed a pair of two-out errors to enable Kelly to score, swelling the Coginchaug lead to 5-0.
In all, the Cougars had a tough day in the field. Their five errors led to five unearned runs.
“Coginchaug played very well. I was impressed with the way everyone in their order – from one to nine – can really swing the bat,” Cougars coach Jeff Talbott said. “As for us, we had a tough day in the field. Coginchaug hit a lot of hard grounders today, but some of them should have been outs.
“In the end, it just wasn’t our day,” he concluded. “I was pleased with the way our kids fought back and with the fact that they never gave up, but Coginchaug made a bunch of good plays in the field today and hit the ball very well.”
Trailing 5-0, the Cougars started to make things interesting in their half of the sixth inning. Annabelle Zajac opened the inning with a single and Ivy McNiel drew a walk to put the first two hitters aboard. Bodak then followed with a hard-hit, opposite-field double to left that scored Zajac and moved McNiel to third. McNeil then scored on Richwine’s bouncer in front of the plate on which Konopka, the Blue Devils’ catcher, elected to get the sure out at first base, making it 5-2 through six.
Coginchaug padded its lead by scoring two unearned insurance runs off sophomore Brooke Hickman, the third Cougar pitcher of the day, in the top of the seventh. Case and Strang both reached base on consecutive infield errors after the first two batters of the inning had been retired and Hatje blasted a two-out, two-run triple to left, stretching the Devil lead to 7-2 as H-K took its final turn at the plate.
Freshman Caley Napoletano led off the Cougar seventh with a single before a Coginchaug error and a walk to Ness loaded the bases with no one out. A base hit by Zajac brought home Napoletano and kept the bases loaded, making the score 7-3 and bringing the game-tying run to the plate with none out.
McNiel’s bouncer to short brought home Audrey Snyder, shrinking the Coginchaug lead to 7-4 and Hickman followed with a sacrifice fly to right to make it 7-5 with two out and Zajac at third.
Jose, however, ended the suspense by reaching back and firing a called third strike past Keira Czarkowski, clinching the Blue Devil win.
Hatje’s three hits, two ribbies and two runs scored paced the Blue Devils nine-hit attack, while Kelly had two hits and two runs scored. Ness, Case, Strang and Ava Marenna had the other Coginchaug hits. Zajac had a pair of hits, a run scored and an RBI for the Cougars while Bodak had a hit and two ribbies. Napoletano and Snyder had the other two hits.
Jose finished with a complete game five-hitter, fanning four and walking six. Bodak gave up four hits and four runs, including two earned, in two innings of work, Richwine gave up four hits and an unearned run in three innings, and Hickman surrendered one hit and two unearned runs in two innings.
Coginchaug will swing back into action on Wednesday when the Blue Devils travel to Clinton to face Morgan in a 4 p.m. game. H-K will try to bounce back on Wednesday when the Cougars host Westbrook/Portland also at 4 p.m.
“It turned into a nail-biter, which is why we’re always preaching around here that you’ve got to play seven innings,” Coginchaug coach Steve DeMartino said.
“I was very proud of the way Janna fought her way through all that trouble in the seventh and did a great job closing the deal,” he added. “I’m also proud of our defense – we flashed a lot of leather out there today and made some great plays on a couple of hard-hit line drives.”
Proud as he was of his squad, DeMartino stopped short of referring to his team as Giant Killers.
That’s because the trouble in becoming a Giant Killer is that you inevitably become a giant yourself.
Coginchaug…040 010 2–7 9 2
Haddam-Kill…000 002 3–5 5 5
Batteries: C–Jose and Konopka; HK–Bodak, Richwine (3), Hickman (6) and Madison LaTouche. WP: Jose; LP: Bodak; 2B: C–Kelly; HK–Bodak; 3B: C–Kelly, Hatje.