Pictured: H-K pitcher Callen Powers fields a ground ball off the bat of Cromwell’s Antonio Iozzo in the bottom of the seventh. At right is first baseman Dylan Coon. Iozzo reached for a hit. (Photo by Danny Atkinson)
By Danny Atkinson
CROMWELL — During its promising start to the baseball season, Haddam-Killingworth has seen plenty of strong young players emerge. In each game however, the team has been able to rely on veteran captains Callen Powers and Nick Glynn to make a big impact.
In a huge Shoreline Conference matchup at Cromwell on Wednesday, the duo came through at the biggest moments to help the Cougars win 2-1 and improve to 8-3, the second-best record to date in the league standings.
After a shaky start, Powers got on track and threw an outstanding complete game for the win. And he saved his best for last.
With a man on first and one out in the bottom of the seventh, pinch hitter Antonio Iozzo hit a dribbler down the first-base line that stayed fair and had Panthers players and fans on the edge of their seats. Powers was unfazed and struck out Sam Stergos and Ethan Ucol swinging, the first on a fastball on the outer part of the plate and the second on a low off-speed pitch that caught Ucol off-balance.
“When those two guys got on, I was just trusting my defense. I tried to get a ground ball and a double play, but it worked out a little differently. I was able to work the corner and keep the ball down,” Powers said about the final two at-bats.
H-K has won four games in a row, outscoring opponents 32-4 in the process. The Cougars have held four teams scoreless or to one run. Cromwell (7-4) has lost two of three after a four-game winning streak.
Glynn, who is the Cougars’ starting catcher, had his moment to shine in the top of the fourth with runners on first and second with one out. He jumped on a fastball from sophomore starter Connor Slifer and smacked a line drive to center field to score Todd Butler, who had doubled, and Alex Sheehan, who reached on a fielder’s choice, for a 2-0 lead. Powers had a chance to increase the lead after Glynn had advanced to third on the throw to the infield, but instead had his line drive caught by third baseman Tysen Billings, who stepped on third to double off Glynn.
The Cougars woke up in the fourth after being dominated by Slifer their first time through the lineup.
The righty retired the first nine batters, striking out eight in a row after the game opened with a groundout. Five hitters struck out looking and all had a tough time zeroing in on pitches, while Slifer showed impeccable control. H-K was much more aggressive starting in the fourth and finally able to make solid contact.
“Their pitcher had total command of his slider and was making it very difficult early,” H-K coach Mark Brookes said. “The second time through, the kids got used to the trajectory of his pitches and understood that they needed to keep their head down and stay through with their swings. From there we got a couple of hits and some good things happened.”
Powers was up and down to start the game. He struggled with locating pitches and walked a hitter in the first and two in the second, but got out of that pinch when a line drive resulted in a double play.
Starting in the third however, Powers was much more efficient barring a blemish in the fourth. He retired the side in order in the third, fifth (all on strikeouts) and sixth innings. He did a better job of locating his pitches and keeping the ball down and consistently forced off-balance swings. Powers finished with eight strikeouts to just two walks and four hits.
“I was able to keep a level head,” he said. “There were a couple of times where I was punched in the mouth and I punched right back. I hit my spots well and thought I was placing the fastball where I wanted every time.”
Cromwell benefited from the sunny weather to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the fourth. With two outs, Elias DeLeon ripped a double and Zach Zajac followed with a fly ball to left that was lost in the glare, sending DeLeon home and Zajac to second. After walking Billings, Powers escaped by striking out Slifer looking on an inside pitch.
After his bumpy fourth, Slifer recovered and held H-K hitless for the final three innings, with the only batter reaching on an error. While he was getting fewer strikes looking, Slifer was still able to consistently force weak contact and overpower batters at times. He ultimately held the Cougars to two hits while striking out 10 in the complete game loss.
Cromwell coach Christian Budzik discussed the frustrating loss as well as what his players must do to quickly get back on track against a tough schedule.
“Their pitcher threw well and we couldn’t hit well with two strikes and string big hits together,” he said. “Connor pitched outstanding for us today. The guys just need to refocus and not get caught up in this loss with games at East Hampton and North Branford coming right up, and they have the mental toughness to do so.”
Brookes was unsure of how well H-K would start the season due to its youth. He is very pleased with what he’s seen to the midway point of the season.
“Their progression so far has been pretty good,” he said. “I knew we’d start the season slow, but we got better quickly and have gained confidence. This has been a big week for us beating two good teams in Old Saybrook and Cromwell.”
The Cougars will look to keep their win streak going Thursday against 5-6 North Branford. The Panthers will play 6-5 East Hampton on Friday and North Branford Saturday.