Pictured: Hale-Ray pitcher Samantha LaFemina reacts after getting the final out in her complete-game victory over Coginchaug. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)
By Marc Silvestrini
DURHAM – The Nathan Hale-Ray softball team clawed back from four-run deficits twice on Tuesday to hand Coginchaug an 8-7 Shoreline Conference loss, likely denying the Blue Devils of the No. 1 seed in next week’s league tournament.
The Noises climbed out of a 4-0 first-inning hole to pull to within 4-3 in the top of the third, only to give up three more runs in the last of the third to fall behind by four again at 7-3. But a two-run rally in their half of the fifth and three more runs in the sixth enabled the Noises to take home the victory.
The win secures a berth for the Noises (7-11 overall, 6-9 in Shoreline play) in the conference tournament and brings them to within one win of qualifying for the CIAC Class S tournament with two games left in their regular season.
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils (12-6 overall, 11-3 Shoreline) fell from the top seed they would have earned with a win. If Cromwell beats North Branford and Haddam-Killingworth beats Morgan on Friday, the No. 1 seed will be determined by a coin flip between Cromwell and H-K. The teams split during the regular season by identical 7-0 scores and are tied in additional tiebreakers.
“We just didn’t play a very good game today,” Coginchaug coach Steve DeMartino said. “We just kind of deflated after that four-run first inning, while they never gave up.”
“You have to give them a lot of credit,” he said of the feisty Noises. “Instead of letting that slow start drag them down, they just kept battling and got more and more juiced as the game went on.”
As might be expected, the Noises had plenty of big hits, big defensive plays and heroes on the day.
Three of their biggest heroes were senior center fielder Lily Bourgeois, who went 5 for 5 with a double; senior starter Samantha LaFemina, who pitched a complete game, retiring the final 10 batters she faced, and also reached base in all five of her plate appearances with two hits and three walks; and sophomore third baseman Sarabeth Amenta, whose clutch two-out double in the sixth turned a 7-6 deficit into an 8-7 lead.
“We played with a lot of energy today and our intensity level kept rising,” LaFemina said. “It was like flipping a switch after that first inning. We were just so determined to come back and win the game.”
After Coginchaug starter Emilie Hatje retired the Noises in the first, Ava Marenna led off Coginchaug’s half with a single to right field, stole second and moved to third on Natalie Ness’ infield hit. Both runners scored when Jackie Kelly bounced a nubber off the plate that resulted in a wild throw to first. Kelly then scored on Hatje’s double to right-center, and Hatje’s courtesy runner, Ashley Tarquino, scored on Tatum Hultgren’s single to right to give the Blue Devils a quick 4-0 lead.
Brooke Praskievicz’s bouncer to short scored Bourgeois in the third to make it 4-1 and Bourgeois collected her third hit of the day an inning later when she — batting right-handed after batting as a lefty in her first two at-bats — grounded a clutch two-run single up the middle to bring Hale-Ray back to within 4-3.
Hultgren opened the Coginchaug fourth with a triple to deep right and was brought home on Claire Overton’s single. Marenna’s second hit of the day moved Overton’s courtesy runner Molly Stoetzie to third, from where she scored on Tarquino’s sacrifice fly to center.
Kelly then singled home Marenna to re-establish Coginchaug’s four-run lead at 7-3 through four innings.
A grounder to third by Jackie Goetz and a long double by Brooke Linares in the fifth drew the Noises to within 7-5. Bourgeois then opened the sixth off Coginchaug reliever Mia Poturnicki with her fourth straight hit, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on an infield grounder and scored on a passed ball to make it 7-6.
One batter later, with two out in the sixth and no one on base, LaFemina and Praskievicz reached on back-to-back singles, bringing Amenta to the plate with the tying and go-ahead runs on the base paths. The Noises third baseman promptly brought both home with a towering blast to the deepest part of center field.
With her team suddenly in the lead, LaFemina brought her pitching to a whole new level, retiring the final six Coginchaug batters on two infield grounders, three fly balls to Bourgeois in center and a strikeout to end the game.
“After that first inning, Sammy settled down and did a great job,” Hale-Ray coach Steve Pernal said of LaFemina. “She began moving the ball around, hitting her spots, and keeping them off balance. Add in a few big, clutch hits and that pretty much was why we won the game.”
“It was a real nice win for us,” he added. “It’s always nice to see them come back and win after being down 4-0 like that.”
Aside from her 5-for-5 performance at the plate, Bourgeois had two runs scored, two RBIs and five put-outs in center.
“I think it was adrenaline that got me going – that and the fact that everyone else was hitting too,” she said. “Everyone got excited as we started to make our comeback, no one gave up, and that got me excited.”
LaFemina and Praskievicz each had a pair of hits and two runs scored while Linares had two hits and an RBI and Amenta had her two key ribbies.
All the damage against LaFemina came in the first and fourth innings as she gave up eight of the nine hits she allowed on the day in those two innings. Thirteen of the 21 outs she recorded came on balls hit in the air either to the infield or outfield.
Marenna, Kelly and Hultgren each had two hits for the Blue Devils. Marenna scored two runs while Kelly knocked in two. Hatje — who returned to the mound in relief of Poturnicki in the top of the sixth — pitched a total of 6 1/3 innings, allowing nine hits, fanning seven and walking four, including an intentional walk to LaFemina.
Hale-Ray will now seek an eighth win that would guarantee it a berth in the state tournament. The Noises close out their regular season with home games against Morgan at 3:15 p.m. on Wednesday and East Windsor/SMSA next Tuesday at 3:45.
Hale-Ray……001 223 0–8 13 3
Coginchaug..400 300 0–7 9 1
Batteries: HR–LaFemina and Goetz; Cog–Hatje, Poturnicki (6), Hatje (6) and Overton. WP: LaFemina; LP: Poturnicki; 2B: HR–Linares, Amenta, Bourgeois; Cog–Hatje; 3B: Cog–Hultgren. Records: Hale-Ray 7-11, 6-9; Coginchaug 12-6, 11-3.
In other softball action Tuesday:
Cromwell 9, Old Lyme 1: Junior Lily Kenney’s follow-up to her perfect game Friday was a 2-hitter with 17 strikeouts as the Panthers (16-2) routed the Wildcats (14-5). Madison Tessmer had 4 hits including a triple, Grace McFarlin added 2 hits and so did Jamie Anderson, who had a triple. Malena Signorello contributed a double for Cromwell. With the Panthers ahead 6-0 in the fifth, Jamie Bucior hit a solo home run off Kenney for Old Lyme’s only run.
Valley Regional 10, Windsor Locks 8: Visiting Valley scored 3 runs in the sixth to snap a 7-7 tie and notch its third straight win. The Warriors (8-10) qualified for the Class M tournament. Amara was 3 for 4 with 2 doubles, 3 runs scored and an RBI to lead Valley’s offense, while Mercedes Penno, Sam Pierce, Vivian Paradis and Gabi Quinn had 2 hits each. Penno, Pierce and winning pitcher Mckenzie Mule drove in 2 runs apiece and Paradis scored 3 runs.