Pictured: Coach Angelo Morello’s Panthers went 18-2 in the regular season, losing to top Shoreline seed H-K and Coginchaug. Cromwell has won nine straight entering the conference tournament. (Photo by Paul Augeri)

By Paul Augeri

This could be the week that North Branford’s stranglehold on the Shoreline Conference softball championship is broken.

Top-seeded Haddam-Killingworth is game. The Cougars won 18 of 20 in the regular season. They bash the ball all over the field. And coach Jeff Talbott likes to play mix and match with his starting pitchers, junior left-hander and 13-game winner Kaleigh Bodak and sophomore right-hander Brooke Hickman. Talbott’s troop is fun to watch.

No. 2 Cromwell also racked up 18 wins, almost all coming from the right arm of junior Lily Kenney, one of the state’s premier pitchers. The Adelphi-bound Kenney, who was the Shoreline’s Pitcher of the Year last season and appears to be a shoo-in for that honor again, has a perfect game against H-K on her 2022 resume and, among other bullet points, a 17-strikeout performance against North Branford.

Old Lyme is not to be discounted. The Wildcats, a year older and stronger, won 15 games. Their season sweep of Coginchaug served as a high point, and they also have the experience of playing in last year’s final (a 5-0 loss to the T-Birds). Emma Bayor has pitched very well for coach Tim Galvin and the ‘Cats, led by Bayor, Jenna Schauder and Ava Roth, can hit.

We’re not counting out the T-Birds, but they lost their three best hitters to 2021 graduation and, to get to the final for a shot at a seventh straight title, they have to contend with No. 4 Coginchaug right off the bat. The Blue Devils can hit up and down the lineup, and most played on last year’s Class S championship team.

The eight-team field begins play Monday with first-round games at the sites of the higher seeds. For North Branford, that means a trip to Durham. The two split in the regular season: Coginchaug outslugged the T-Birds 13-8 a month ago, while just law week North Branford rolled to a 9-0 win at home.

I like Coginchaug in this one and I like Cromwell to win the championship. The fun won’t end this week either — Cromwell, Old Lyme, Coginchaug and North Branford are in the Class S field. We could do some of this all over again in June. How fun would that be?

First Round, May 23
No. 8 East Hampton at No. 1 H-K, 4
No. 7 Valley Regional at No. 2 Cromwell, 4
No. 5 North Branford at No. 4 Coginchaug, 3:30
No. 6 Hale-Ray at No. 3 Old Lyme, 4

Semifinals, May 24
At sites of higher seeds

Championship, May 26
Host site: North Branford or Morgan

Note: The top seed was determined by a coin flip between H-K and Cromwell. The teams were even after tie-breakers — same regular-season Shoreline record; split of their two games against each other by same run count; and same conference division record.

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