Pictured: Old Lyme’s Emma Bayor (red helmet) is swarmed by her teammates after hitting a long home run in the fourth inning to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

By Marc Silvestrini

OLD LYME – Entering this, his sixth season at the helm of the Old Lyme softball program, Wildcat coach Tim Gavin had never beaten Coginchaug.

Over the past seven weeks, however, Gavin and his Wildcats have turned things around. Following Wednesday’s thrilling 4-3 walk-off win in the second round of the CIAC Class S tournament, Old Lyme has now beaten the Blue Devils three straight times.

The Wildcats, now 19-6 on the season, move on to the tournament’s quarterfinals, traveling to Lebanon Friday to take on Lyman Memorial, a 10-6 winner over Thomaston Wednesday. Old Lyme is the tournament’s fifth seed while Lyman Memorial is the fourth seed.

Coginchaug, the tournament’s 12th seed and last year’s Class S champion, concludes its 2022 season with a 13-8 record.

Coginchaug’s Jackie Kelly had a key two-run single in her team’s three-run sixth inning. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

“Our defense let us down a little late in the game, but hats off to Tim and his team,” Coginchaug coach Steve DeMartino said. “They played very well, they deserved to win the game.”

Trailing 3-1 after a three-run Coginchaug rally in the top of the sixth, the Wildcats responded by scoring a pair of runs in the last of the sixth to tie the game and then pushing across the winning run in the bottom of the seventh.

Sophomore Ava Roth triggered the sixth-inning rally with a one-out double to left. After the Blue Devils were able to get a second out, DeMartino ordered pitcher Janna Jose to intentionally walk Emma Bayor, another sophomore, who had belted a monstrous home run to left in the fourth.

Jenna Schauder then hit a rocket single to left that loaded the bases with two outs. Jamie Bucior followed by drawing a walk – the only free pass Jose would allow on the day – to shave Coginchaug’s lead to 3-2 before Bayor sprinted home from third with the tying run when a pitch got past the Coginchaug catcher.

After Bayor, who had relieved starter Victoria Gage in the sixth inning, retired the Devils in order in the top of the seventh, Grace Phaneuf – the third sophomore in Gavin’s lineup – led off the Wildcat half of the inning with a line single to left.

Lauren Creagan then laid down a sacrifice bunt that was misplayed by the Coginchaug infield, allowing Creagan to reach first and Phaneuf to motor to third with none out. Anna Eichholz, a freshman, then hit a sharp grounder back to the mound and reached base safely when Jose chose to throw the ball to the plate as Bayor scrambled back to third.

With the bases loaded and no one out, Roth concluded the affair with a shot over the left fielder’s head, easily plating Bayor with the winning run.

Old Lyme starter Victoria Gage pitched the first five innings in the Wildcats’ 4-3 win in the second round of the Class S tournament. (Photo by Marc Silvestrini)

“We’ve had three great games against them this year, including two we won in our final at bat,” Gavin said. “They’re a class act over there – I think Steve and (assistant coach) Joe (Kelly) do a wonderful job. To have beaten them three times in three very close games says a lot about how far our program has come and where it’s going.”

Gavin added that he had one piece of advice for his hitters as the game entered its late stages.

“I told them that we had better start doing something with our bats because Jenna was throwing very well and she was throwing strikes,” he said. “If you’re facing a pitcher that’s throwing nothing but strikes you’d better start swinging at them.”

Old Lyme’s best swing of the afternoon came in the fourth inning with the game still scoreless. Bayor absolutely crushed a Jose fastball far over the fence in left to give her team a 1-0 lead.

“I got off to a little bit of a slow start this year at the plate, I was having some problems, but I worked with my dad and coach Gavin a lot and things have started to come around,” said Bayor, who was also the winning pitcher.

Trailing 1-0 through five, Coginchaug staged a three-run rally in the sixth to briefly take control of the game.

Ava Marenna led off the inning by beating out an infield hit and Natalie Ness drew a walk, which prompted Gavin to bring Bayor to the mound from first base and use Gage to replace her at first.

After both baserunners moved up on a wild pitch, Jackie Kelly ripped a two-strike pitch up the middle and into center field, scoring both Marenna and Ness. Kelly moved to second on Jose’s bouncer to second and then scored when Konopka’s bunt single was thrown away, giving the visitors a 3-1 lead.

Coginchaug proceeded to advance runners to second and third with one out, but Bayor ended the threat by fanning the final two Blue Devils of the inning as the visitors failed to pad their lead.

“Holding them to just the three runs there was absolutely critical,” Gavin said. “Giving them anything more than a two-run lead at that point in the game would have made it awfully hard for us to come back.”

Coming back, however, has become a habit for the Wildcats.

“We had never beaten a Coginchaug team in my career, so to beat them three times in my last season is just crazy,” Gage said. “This team just never gives up. We have a very positive attitude.”

Bayor seconded that thought.

“I just love this team,” she said. “We just never go away. No matter how far we’re down, we know we’re going to find a way to win.”

Roth had a pair of hits, a run scored and an RBI to lead the Wildcat five-hit attack while Bayor, Schauder and Phaneuf had the other Wildcat hits. Paige Konopka had two of Coginchaug’s six hits while Kelly had a hit, a run scored and two ribbies. Marenna, Jose and Tatum Hultgren had the other Blue Devil hits.

Bayor allowed a pair of hits and an unearned run in two innings of work while striking out four. Gage allowed four hits and two runs in five innings, fanning five and walking one.

Jose pitched a solid game in her final start for the Devils, allowing four runs on six hits, fanning 10 and walking one.

When asked to assess the Blue Devils’ season, DeMartino said he was happy with the team’s progress throughout the year but felt it needed to learn how to handle itself better in pressure situations.

“I think we did well with the team we had,” he said. “I thought we got a lot out of these kids. We just have to work a little on our intensity level in pressure situations. We tended to get stressed and make a few more mistakes when the games got tight.”

Coginchaug…000 003 0–3 6 3
Old Lyme…….000 102 1–4 6 2

Batteries: Coginchaug–Jose and Konopka; OL–Gage, Bayor (6) and Phaneuf. WP: Bayor. LP: Jose; 2B: OL–Roth; HR: OL–Bayor. Records: Coginchaug 13-8; Old Lyme 19-6.

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