Pictured: H-K starter Alex Sheehan said his fastball “was really there for me today, it was definitely my best pitch” after he beat Cromwell 3-1. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
HIGGANUM — Death and taxes are generally regarded as the only sure things in life, but there is actually a third virtual certainty to human existence:
Any Haddam-Killingworth baseball team coached by Mark Brookes — and there has never been any other coach in the program’s history — will always pitch well and play good defense.
The Cougars employed that same, trusty formula against Cromwell on Monday, parlaying the stellar pitching of senior right-hander Alex Sheehan with effective defensive play to forge a 3-1 win.
Sheehan, mixing the occasional curve and slider with his solid fastball, tossed a complete-game three-hitter, shutting out the Panthers through the first six innings before yielding an unearned run in the seventh. He struck out five and walked only two.
Behind him, the Cougars defense played with its customary efficiency, turning a pair of double plays, including the game-ending play on a great catch in right field by Declan Christopher, who then threw to Caden Civiello to double up the Cromwell runner at first.
“I thought he pitched very well today, he’s had a number of good starts for us over the past few weeks,” Brookes said of Sheehan’s effort. “It was a very good performance — he was very consistent with his mechanics.”
Cromwell also got a solid pitching effort out of its starter, Zach Zajac, who yielded seven hits and three runs over his six innings of work. Several of the hits he did surrender were of the infield variety. Zajac fanned three and walked one.
“He really gave us a great performance, we just didn’t make some plays behind him that should have been made,” Panthers coach Christian Budzik said. “And we’re still not stringing together any hits. “You just can’t play like we did today and expect to beat a team as good as they are.”
The win improves H-K’s record to 12-6 on the season and 11-5 in Shoreline Conference play. Cromwell drops to 8-11 on the season and 8-9 in the conference.
H-K has clinched a berth in the eight-team Shoreline tournament that begins next week and, once tiebreakers are determined, could land anywhere between the 3 and 5 seed.
Cromwell is one of four, along with East Hampton, Old Lyme and Hale-Ray, battling for the final three spots in the field. Cromwell holds tiebreaker advantages over both Old Lyme and Hale-Ray, Budzik said. Valley Regional and Old Saybrook are the top two seeds.
The Cougars broke on top against Zajac in the last of the second thanks in large part to the bat and legs of Nick Glynn. The Cougars’ catcher opened the inning by legging out an infield hit and promptly stole second. Following a walk to Butler, Glynn stole third, from where he scored on a fielder’s choice RBI grounder by Lucas Kamoen.
Shortstop Blake Kamoen had a similar base-running adventure in the third inning. With one out, Kamoen hit a sharp single to right, stole second and then stole third when the Cromwell infield was slow in getting the ball back to Zajac. Civiello then bounced one back to the mound as Kamoen bluffed a dash to the plate. Zajac, who had fielded the ball cleanly, spun and threw to third in an attempt to nail Kamoen, but the Cougar shortstop beat the throw to third, putting Cougars at first and third with one out.
Sheehan then aided his own cause by hitting a sacrifice fly to deep center, scoring Kamoen and increasing the Cougar lead to 2-0.
H-K scored its final run in the last of the fourth. With one-out Ryan Erskine beat out yet another Cougar infield hit and took second on Callen Powers’ bouncer to the mound. Joe Giaccone then plated Erskine with a clutch, two-out single to center to pad the lead to 3-0.
Meanwhile, Sheehan retired 11 of the 13 Cromwell batters he faced in the third through sixth innings.
“My fastball was really there for me today, it was definitely my best pitch,” he said.
When asked how ready he thought his team was for postseason play, Sheehan said he was confident in the team’s pitching and defense, but that the Cougar bats “needed some work.”
“We just need one guy to get hot at the plate and once that happens, then we’ll all start hitting,” he said. “(Postseason play)’s going to be hard, but very interesting.”
Cromwell shortstop Elias DeLeon led off the Panthers’ seventh with a hard single to left and moved to second on Sheehan’s wild pitch. Zajac’s infield grounder was then misplayed, allowing DeLeon to score from second and breaking up Sheehan’s shutout bid.
Glynn led the Cougars’ seven-hit attack with two hits, two steals and a run scored while Blake and Lucas Kamoen, Butler, Erskine and Giaccone had the other H-K hits. Sheehan, Lucas Kamoen and Giaccone each had a ribbie.
DeLeon, Zajac and Nick Soignoli had the three Panther hits off Sheehan.
H-K travels to Ellington on Tuesday and then hosts Old Lyme on Thursday at 4 p.m. in a game that will not count in the conference standings. Cromwell closes out its regular season on Thursday when the Panthers travel to Rockville for a 3:45 p.m. nonconference game.
Cromwell…….000 000 1–1 3 1
Haddam-Kill…011 100 x–3 7 1
Batteries: C–Zajac and Patrick; HK–Sheehan and Glynn. WP: Sheehan; LP: Zajac; Records: Cromwell 8-11, 8-9; Haddam-Killingworth 12-6, 11-5.