Pictured: Lily Kenney, center, can’t contain her excitement after recording the final out of her perfect game Friday at home. At left is Cromwell shortstop Madison Tessmer; at right is first baseman Malena Signorello. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Marc Silvestrini

CROMWELL – Cromwell ace Lily Kenney knew she had to come up with a big effort to give her team any chance of beating a 15-1 Haddam-Killingworth team.

Nonetheless, to describe the game she pitched Friday against the Cougars as a “big effort” would be a critically flawed and downright inaccurate assessment of what the junior right-hander accomplished.

Kenney faced 21 Cougar batters and retired every last one of them in pitching a perfect game to lead the Panthers to a 7-0 win against their Shoreline Conference rival.

The win not only avenged a 7-0 Cougars win in Higganum three weeks ago but also lifted the Panthers into a three-way tie with H-K and Coginchaug in the Shoreline regular-season standings, which will determine the seeding for the league’s championship tournament.

Each team has two losses in league play, entering the final week of the regular season, with Coginchaug holding the tie-breaker by virtue of its 2-0 record against H-K and Cromwell in head-to-head play.

Both Cromwell and H-K are now 15-2 overall this season.

“That — what she did today against a very good, very strong-hitting team — is why Lily is the best pitcher in the league,” Cromwell coach Angelo Morello said of his star right-hander. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

Kenney was spectacular in pitching the Panthers to a share of the conference lead, striking out 12 H-K batters and, of course, walking none.

The closest the Cougars came to putting a batter on base all day was a long fly ball to right-center off the bat of Cheyenne LaTouche that was tracked down by Panther centerfielder Jamie Anderson in the fifth inning.

“I was a little nervous before the game because H-K hit me a bit the last time we played and I knew I had to bring my A-game today to beat them,” Kenney said. “I knew I’d have to be at my absolute best because they’re a really good team.”

Kenney, who also had two hits and three RBIs on the day, added that she threw mostly “curves and risers” at the Cougars Friday and used her fastball only sparingly because the Cougars had “already shown me they could hit my fastball.”

She also added that she had no idea she was working on a perfect game until two batters were gone in the final inning. At that point, she happened to ask her first basemen, Malena Signorello, how many batters had reached first base.

“She (Signorello) said no one has, which really got me excited,” Kenney said.

After squandering an opportunity in their half of the second by leaving the bases loaded, the Panthers broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the third off H-K ace Kaleigh Bodak. Bodak had relieved starter Brooke Hickman in the last of the second with the bases loaded and one out and had worked her way out of the jam by fanning Alyssa Brodeur and getting Anderson out on a hard grounder to first.

But Cromwell shortstop Madison Tessmer opened the third with a line-drive single to left, moved to second on an outfield error, and to third on a wild pitch. Kenney then ripped a bad-hop single off the glove of Cougars shortstop Bella Richwine to plate the first run of the game.

Two softly-hit infield singles then loaded the bases with one out before Stephanie Esposito brought home Kenney with the second run of the game on a shallow pop up that fell between the pitcher’s mound and second base and that no Cougar could reach.

In all, the Panthers collected five hits off Bodak in the third, the last three of which were of the infield variety, travelling an average of about 50 feet apiece.

Leading 2-0, the Panthers broke the game wide open with a five-run fourth inning. Anderson opened the inning with a single off Hickman, who had been sent to first base when Bodak took over in the second and had been reinserted on the mound in the third. After Tessmer reached on an error, Kenney lined a double into the right-center field gap, scoring both Anderson and Tessmer.

A single to right by Victoria Wiatrak promptly plated Kenney, a Signorello double down the third-base line scored Wiatrak and a Samantha Smith single brought home Signorello with the run that gave Kenney a 7-0 cushion.

“She was the whole story today, she pitched a great game,” H-K coach Jeff Talbott said of Kenney. “Every aspect of our game – pitching, hitting and fielding – was just mediocre today, but all credit should go to their pitcher – she was just outstanding.”

After their five-run uprising in the fourth, Cromwell was held in check by Ivy McNiel, H-K’s third pitcher of the day. McNiel walked the first two batters she faced in the Cromwell fifth but then dispatched the Panthers by fanning the next six in a row.

The walk to Anderson leading off the Cromwell fifth marked the fifth straight inning in which Cromwell managed to get its leadoff batter on base.

“That was a critical factor,” Talbott said. “They just kept putting pressure on our defense all game long.”

Kenney, Anderson, Signorello and Grace McFarlin each had a pair of hits to pace Cromwell’s 12-hit attack. Aside from Kenney’s three-RBI performance, Wiatrak, Signorello, Esposito and Smith knocked in runs for the Panthers.

Hickman, Bodak and McNiel each worked two full innings on the mound for H-K.

Cromwell coach Angelo Morello was just as effusive in his praise of Kenney’s performance as Talbott had been.

“That – what she did today against a very good, very strong-hitting team – is why Lily is the best pitcher in the league,” he said. “And believe me, there are a lot of real good pitchers in the Shoreline Conference.

“And the thing is, she’s not only a great pitcher, but she’s also a great teammate. She’s always the first one to give all the credit to her teammates. All the girls respect her. Every one of them plays hard for her.”

Cromwell will wrap up it season next week with three conference road games — Old Lyme on Tuesday, Old Saybrook on Wednesday and North Branford on Friday. H-K will travel to East Lyme for a nonconference game on Monday before closing its regular season with home games against Old Saybrook on Tuesday and Morgan on Friday.

H-K……….000 000 0–0 0 3
Cromwell.002 500 x–7 12 0

Batteries: HK–Hickman, Bodak (2), Hickman (3), Bodak (4), McNiel (5) and Madison LaTouche; C–Kenney and Wiatrak. WP: Kenney; LP: Bodak. 2B: C–Kenney, Signorello. Records: H-K 15-2, 13-2 Shoreline; Cromwell 15-2, 11-2.

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