Pictured: Starter Alex Sheehan received plenty of support and struck out 14 in H-K’s road win over East Hampton on Tuesday. (Photo by Danny Atkinson)

By Danny Atkinson

EAST HAMPTON – The Haddam-Killingworth coaches and players know that they have to stay focused and execute in games at the most important moments to finish a challenging regular-season schedule on a strong note. Tuesday’s win at East Hampton was a great first step for the team.

H-K quickly took control against the Bellringers, ending the top of the third with a 6-0 lead and having driven two pitchers out of the game. From there, senior starter Alex Sheehan completely silenced East Hampton’s bats for four innings and reliever Lucas Kamoen took over in the bottom of the sixth to squelch any hope of an East Hampton comeback and ensure a 6-3 victory.

Sheehan struck out 14 in 5 1/3 innings and Kamoen notched the save as H-K improves to 10-6 overall and 9-6 in the Shoreline Conference. The Cougars earned a bounce-back win after two ugly losses to Valley Regional last week. East Hampton falls to 7-7 and has lost three of four after a five-game win streak.

“You have to try and grab every win you can get and it was an important win, especially after yesterday,” H-K coach Mark Brookes said, alluding to a 9-1 loss to Shoreline leader Valley.

The Cougars jumped on starting pitcher James Quinn the second. Catcher Nick Glynn smacked a line drive single on a pitch down the middle of the strike zone. Todd Butler, Ryan Erskine and Sheehan then singled, the second two RBIs, to put H-K up 2-0. With the bases loaded, Quinn located his pitches better and escaped by getting a strikeout and pop-out.

With Quinn struggling with his control and being unable to overpower hitters, Bellringers coach Tom Seidl went to Javy Diaz in the third. However, Diaz struggled to find the strike zone and the Cougars took advantage.

Caden Civello opened the third with a walk, stole second and reached third when Dylan Coon struck out but reached first when the pitch got away from catcher Austin Bigelow. Diaz walked the next hitter to load the bases and Butler lashed a fastball over the middle for an RBI single. Powers and Erskine both walked with the bases loaded to put H-K up 5-0 and Seidl removed Diaz with the bases still loaded and still no outs.

This time, East Hampton made the right choice in Baden Plante. He forced a ground ball by Sheehan that led Butler to be thrown out at home. However, Bigelow overthrew first on a double play attempt.

Powers scored his team’s final run on a wild pitch. Luke Mauri and Blake Kameon struck out to leave East Hampton trailing 6-0. H-K would not figure out Plante the remainder of the game.

The Cougar hitters demonstrated a great amount of discipline against Quinn and Diaz. They were able to consistently lay off balls and square up pitches over the middle. With this approach and their aggressiveness on the basepaths, the Bellringers had no answer for them.

“We had big hits and took advantage of their pitcher’s mistakes. Combine that with some strong pitching and that usually means a win,” Brookes said.

“We waited for pitches to drive or didn’t swing at all and capitalized on that. No one was being too aggressive and we were going base to base”, Glynn said.

Sheehan was dominant early. He struck out two batters swinging in the first and had two in the fourth and struck out the side in both the second and third. In the first four innings, Sheehan allowed just two hits and a walk and struck out 10.

Sheehan did an outstanding job of spotting his pitches and challenging batters both up and down in the zone. He blew away hitter’s up and forced off-balance swings low, particularly on off-speed pitches.

Brookes said Sheehan mixed speeds well.

As he got close to his pitch limit in the fifth, Sheehan began to struggle with his control and tire. Aiden Palen and RJ Stanford hit singles on pitches down the middle to open the inning. However, Sheehan was able to regain control and strike out the side.

In the sixth, Hunter Pierzynski opened the inning by crushing a double to center field. With Dan Cascio up, he advanced to third on a balk before scoring when Powers, playing second, allowed a ground ball to go through his legs. Sheehan began struggling to locate pitches inside, walking Quinn and hitting Palen to load bases with one out. Plante then hit the ball to Sheehan, who decided to throw home. The throw was off-line, scoring Cascio to make it 6-2. Sheehan’s day ended when he hit Luke Paluska to cut the lead to 6-3.

Kamoen looked cool as a cucumber when he came on in relief. Alex Zimmerman quickly struck out swinging and Diaz ended the inning with a pop-out. East Hampton went down quietly in the seventh to give Kamoen a save and H-K a huge win. Brookes praised the senior for his excellent control. Glynn provided a quality assessment of Sheehan.

“Alex looked great and it seems like he’s getting better with every start. He commands the fastball really well and has a good curveball. His stuff allows him to be successful in conference and I am confident that success will continue.”

The Cougars could do nothing against Plante in the final four innings. He had outstanding control and was able to keep hitters off-balance and generate weak contact. Plante allowed just one hit and no Cougar reached scoring position against him.

Erskine led H-K with two RBI and Glynn and Butler each scored two runs. Sheehan ultimately threw 5 1/3 innings to earn the win, striking out 14 and allowing five hits. Quinn earned the loss for the Bellringers.

Pierzynski had two hits and scored a run for East Hampton.

Brookes knows that the final four games of the regular season starting Thursday will be tough, as H-K plays two road games against excellent out of conference opponents in East Granby and Ellington and quality conference opponents next week in Cromwell and Old Lyme. He is confident the offense will continue to play at a high level but said the Cougars must get quality pitching to earn wins and enter playoff season with momentum.

“I think all four of those games are must-win to solidify ourselves as a conference contender. I think we can do that. We’re going to snowball our momentum into the remaining games and playoffs,” Glynn said.

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