Pictured: Coginchaug second baseman Amanda Case brought home two runs with this fifth-inning single in the Blue Devils’ 13-5 win over North Branford.
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM — Coginchaug pitcher Mia Poturnicki felt like she had the weight of the entire world on her shoulders before the Blue Devils’ 13-5 win against North Branford on Friday.
Poturnicki, a junior right-hander, suddenly became a key figure for the Blue Devils when senior pitcher Janna Jose, who had beaten Cromwell and Haddam-Killingworth in her two previous starts, was injured in Wednesday’s game against Morgan.
Jose suffered multiple fractures to the thumb on her (right) pitching hand during an at-bat in Wednesday’s game, an injury that required surgery and will sideline her for the remainder of the season — thrusting Coginchaug’s hopes of defending its Class S championship squarely on Poturnicki’s right arm.
“I was very stressed before the game,” she said. “I knew the entire team was counting on me and that I had to step up big time.”
It didn’t help matters much when the Thunderbirds promptly scored two runs against her in the top of the first inning.
“That first inning definitely wasn’t what I was hoping for,” she said. “But I knew I had a great defense behind me and my curve was working really well. As the game went along, I started feeling more and more comfortable.
“It’s just a lot easier to pitch when you know you have a good defense behind you.”
Having spotted North Branford a quick 2-0 lead, the Blue Devils bounced back with single runs in the second and third innings to tie the game and then erupted for six in the fourth and four more in the fifth to take a commanding 12-1 lead through five frames.
Meanwhile, a poised and increasingly more confident Poturnicki shut the dangerous T-Bird offense down, allowing no runs and two hits from the second through the sixth inning as the Devils breezed to their seventh win of the season in eight starts, including a 6-1 record in Shoreline Conference play.
North Branford is now 4-4 overall and 4-3 in the conference.
“We hit the ball real well today, which is what we’ve pretty much been doing all year,” Coginchaug coach Steve DeMartino said. “We started off a little slowly, we didn’t look too sharp in that first inning, but the kids settled down and we just wound up outslugging them.
“I thought Mia did a great job moving the ball around on them and hitting her spots,” DeMartino added. “She had really good movement on her curve today.”
Down 2-0 against Kiley Mullins, one of the league’s better pitchers, the Blue Devils kicked their offense into gear in the last of the second when Allison Strang doubled over the center fielder’s head, took third on a bouncer back to Mullins and scored on Paige Konopka’s single up the middle.
The Devils tied things up in the third when Natalie Ness singled, stole second and scored on Ava Marenna’s ringing double to the left-center gap, but that was just a portent of what was to come.
With the game knotted at 2, the Devils exploded for six runs in the fourth.
Konopka got the offensive barrage off to a strong start by stroking a two-run single to center. Marenna brought home the third run on a bouncer to short and Jackie Kelly brought home two more on a two-out double to deep center.
After moving to third on a base hit by Amanda Case, Kelly raced home with the sixth run of the inning when Mullins fanned Strang on a low fastball that skipped past the catcher for a passed ball.
A pretty squeeze bunt by Allison Sambor, a two-run single by Case and a T-Bird error accounted for Coginchaug’s four-run fifth, while Ness’ two-out single in the sixth brought home Konopka with Coginchaug’s 13th and final run of the game.
“They really did a good job of putting the ball in play,” T-Birds coach Nick DeLizio said. “Good hitters don’t miss when they get their pitch and I don’t think those guys missed one good pitch all day.”
DeLizio, who like DeMartino has had to deal with the season-ending loss of a key player — captain Hanna Senerchia — also tipped his cap to Poturnicki.
“I thought she threw well while we were looking a little lost at the plate,” he said. “We didn’t swing the bat and took way too many good strikes because she did a good job of mixing things up and keeping us off stride.”
Poturnicki (4-0 on the season) pitched a complete-game seven-hitter, allowing five runs (two earned). She fanned four and didn’t walk a batter. Mullins, who also pitched a complete game, took the loss.
Konopka, Poturnicki’s batterymate, led the Blue Devils’ 15-hit attack with three hits, including a double, three RBIs and two runs scored. Ness, Marenna, Case and Strang each had two hits for the Devils while Marenna, Kelly and Case each had a pair of ribbies.
Alexa Falcioni, a freshman, had a pair of hits for the T-Birds, including a triple, while Juliana Onofrio, another freshman, had a pair of RBIs and her sister, Lindsey Onofrio, had a hit and a ribbie.
On Monday, Coginchaug will host Valley Regional (4pm), while North Branford hosts Westbrook/Portland (4pm).
North Branford…200 000 3–5 7 2
Coginchaug……..011 641 x–13 15 4
Batteries: NB–Mullins and Adriana Hills; Cog–Poturnicki and Konopka. WP: Poturnicki; LP: Mullins; 2B: Cog–Strang (2), Marenna, Kelly, Konopka; 3B: NB–Falcioni. Records: North Branford 4-4, 4-3; Coginchaug 7-1, 6-1.