Pictured: Kaleigh Bodak got the call in the third inning to face Cromwell’s left-handed hitters and ended up pitching five innings of four-hit, scoreless relief in a 7-0 H-K win. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

By Marc Silvestrini

HIGGANUM — Bella Richwine and Kaleigh Bodak pitched a combined shutout and Ivy McNiel, Richwine and Bodak each had RBI singles in Haddam-Killingworth’s decisive five-run third inning to lead the Cougars to a 7-0 win over Cromwell.

Wednesday’s win keeps the Cougars, 11-1 overall and 9-1 in Shoreline Conference play, tied with 7-1 Coginchaug atop the league’s standings in the loss column. Cromwell (9-2, 7-2) is alone in third place, one loss better than Old Lyme (8-3) and defending conference champ North Branford (6-3).

The Cougars broke a scoreless game wide open in their half of the third inning against Cromwell ace Lily Kenney.

After Keira Czarkowski and Annabelle Zajac drew walks to start the frame, Caley Napoletano bunted in an attempt to move the runners into scoring position. After hugging the first-base line and turning foul, the ball abruptly rolled back into fair territory before any Cromwell player could get a hand on it, resulting in a bunt single that loaded the bases.

McNiel, who had three hits on the day and was robbed of at least a double by Jamie Anderson’s fine catch in center in her other at-bat, then singled to left to score Czarkowski with the first run of the game. Kenney’s wild pitch brought home Zajac with the second run and Bodak made it 3-0 by dropping an opposite-field single into left.

Bella Richwine, left, and Ivy McNiel had run-scoring hits in the decisive five-run third inning for H-K. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

Richwine then grounded a clutch two-out, two-strike single to left to plate McNiel and Cheyenne LaTouche, who had reached base on a fielder’s choice, to put the visitors in a 5-0 hole.

From there, Bodak, who had relieved Richwine in the top of the third, kept the Panthers off the board, picking up the win by hurling five innings of four-hit, scoreless relief, fanning two and walking no one.

Richwine allowed just two hits over her two innings of work, striking out one and walking one.

“Bella did a great job. She did exactly what I asked her to do, but with Cromwell scheduled to have a couple of their left-handed hitters bat in the third, I decided to make the move to Bodak (a lefty) right then and there,” H-K coach Jeff Talbott said.

Talbott added that he was “very pleased with every aspect” of the Cougars’ play Wednesday.

“Bella and Kaleigh did a great job pitching today, we made some great plays on defense, particularly early in the game to keep it a scoreless tie, and I thought everyone who came to bat in that third inning did a tremendous job,” he said.

Talbott called a first-inning, over-the-shoulder grab in deep right-center by Cheyenne LaTouche to rob Cromwell’s Madison Tessmer of at least a double a key play of the game since Anderson had opened the game with a single.

“If she doesn’t make that catch we most likely fall behind early and it could well have been a different game,” he said.

One inning later, LaTouche made another nifty grab of a sinking liner off the bat of Stephanie Esposito and then threw a perfect strike to third baseman Bella LaTorre to double-up the Panther runner at third who had broken for the plate, foiling another Cromwell threat.

LaTouche made yet another big play in the last of the fourth when she blasted a shot to the gap in left-center and motored around the bases to score for an inside-the-park home run, padding the Cougars’ lead to 6-0.

McNiel’s third single of the game in the bottom of the sixth brought home Zajac, who had tripled, with H-K’s seventh and final run.

“I was just trying to hit the first strike I saw because I didn’t want to give her (Kenney) a chance to get ahead in the count and start throwing her riser and her off-speed stuff,” McNiel said. “When you’re facing someone who throws as hard as she does, you’re just trying to make solid contact because you know the ball is going to travel if you can hit it.”

McNiel’s three hits and two ribbies paced the Cougars’ attack while Richwine had a hit and two RBIs. LaTouche and Bodak each had a hit and an RBI, while Zajac and Napoletano had the other Cougar hits.

Anderson had three of Cromwell’s six hits on the day while Vickie Wiatrak, Malena Signorello and Esposito had the other hits.

Kenney gave up seven runs on eight hits, fanned 11 and walked three in her six innings of work.

“She (Kenney) struggled a little bit with her control in that big inning and they capitalized on it,” Cromwell coach Angelo Morello said.

“We’ve just got to find a way to beat these top teams like H-K and Coginchaug,” he added. “We’ve got to give Lily better support, we’ve got to hit better, we’ve got to run the bases better. … But we’ll get there. We’ll rebound.”

Cromwell’s first chance to do that will take place on Friday when the Panthers travel to East Hampton for a 4 pm game against the Bellringers. H-K travels to North Branford on Thursday for a 4 pm game.

Cromwell…….000 000 0–0 6 0
Haddam-Kill…005 101 x–7 8 3

Batteries: Cromwell–Kenney and Wiatrak; HK–Richwine, Bodak (3) and Madison LaTouche. WP: Bodak; LP: Kenney; 3B: HK–Zajac; HR: HK–Cheyenne LaTouche. Records: Cromwell 9-2, 7-2 Shoreline; H-K 11-1, 9-1.

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