Pictured: Bella LaTorre and H-K coach Jeff Talbott at third base during a break in the seventh inning of Friday’s game at Coginchaug.

By Paul Augeri

DURHAM — Haddam-Killingworth’s Bella LaTorre was in control of her own destiny when she came to bat in the seventh inning of a 5-5 game Friday at Coginchaug’s home field.

LaTorre is anything but the typical senior on this year’s H-K team. There are 3- and 4-year starters aplenty in coach Jeff Talbott’s lineup and they play like it. LaTorre, however, has had a “very different” softball experience than the others, Talbott said.

Because of a broken ankle, LaTorre did not play as a freshman. She came back like gangbusters as a sophomore to lead the Cougars in RBI. LaTorre appeared, yep, destined, to have another breakout the following spring.

Bella LaTorre’s 5-RBI day propelled H-K to its eighth win of the season, 7-6 at Coginchaug.

But the summer after her second year, while playing for her travel team, LaTorre tore an ACL when she slid into home and the catcher landed on her right knee.

After that lost junior season, fast-forward to what became H-K’s final at-bat Friday. LaTorre already had driven in three runs in her previous two at-bats against Coginchaug starter Emily Allen. Allen got two quick outs to start the inning, so it seemed like a long shot that she’d have to deal with LaTorre again.

As it happened, Allen walked Cheyenne LaTouche and Grace Natanzon reached on a slow-rolling ground ball to shortstop.

Up came LaTorre. Huge moment for her. Worst case for the Blue Devils.

“Actually what I was thinking, and this was a coaching mistake, is that we probably should have intentionally walked her,” Coginchaug’s Steve DeMartino said. “This was happening right at the moment and we were thinking it through … and then she hit the ball.”

LaTorre got out in front of Allen’s first offering and laced a double inside the left-field line, plating LaTouche and Natanzon. The Cougars survived the bottom of the seventh, when Coginchaug had a run in and the bases full, for a 7-6 Shoreline victory — their second against the Blue Devils in as many weeks.

“It’s amazing. It’s crazy. I never could have imagined this,” the wide-eyed slugger said as her proud parents, maybe taken aback themselves, looked on. “I’m SO grateful to be here.”

LaTorre is not the first high school athlete to get through the excruciating experience and recovery of a torn ACL. But her self-satisfaction and enthusiasm after the game were palpable.

“I’ve tried my best,” she said. “I came back the best I could.” And repeating, “I’m really grateful to be here.”

“She’s an every-other-year player with tons of ability,” Talbott said. “We just had to get her on the field this year. A very positive kid who’s worked really hard. I hope she feels good because I feel good about her.”

LaTorre has been the designated player in H-K’s lineup this season. As a DP, she bats but does not play the field. She insists her knee is fully recovered from surgery, while Talbott has been careful about how he uses her. LaTorre did play the final two innings at third base when Richwine was moved from that spot to the mound.

“If you ask her she’s 100 percent,” he said, “but she’s probably more like 80 to 90 percent with the knee. This is what I felt was best for her under the conditions with her knee. She is a great hitter. She keeps on hitting and we’ll get you in the game, I tell her.”

In its 8-1 start to the season, H-K’s offense has been at full throttle, averaging nearly 14 runs per win. LaTorre is batting .444.

“We have a pretty good hitting team,” Talbott said. “Bella’s worked her way from seventh, to sixth, to now fifth in the order.”

Earlier this week, H-K lost 11-1 to eight-time defending Shoreline champion North Branford and senior Kiley Mullins, arguably the best pitcher in Class S this season. There was a caveat.

“Everybody in our lineup except one person struck out at least once. She didn’t,” Talbott said. “Bella came back to the bench after an at-bat [she flied out three times against Mullins] and said, ‘I can hit her any time I want. That’s what she said to me. I said, ‘Good, do it.’

“I knew coming into (Friday), with what she told me Wednesday and the way she was swinging the bat, that i had to move her up in the lineup and hit her fifth today. It’s as high as she’s hit in the order. She is showing what she can do and she did it.”

LaTorre’s favorite pitch to hit?

“If I can hit the first pitch I will always hit the first pitch,” she said. “It’s my favorite pitch to hit. If it is a strike I WILL swing.”

3 thoughts on “After 2 major injuries, Bella LaTorre ‘grateful’ to be hitting away for H-K

  1. Helen Rondini says:

    Way to go Bella. All your hard work has paid off for your team. This was an inspiring article and well deserved.

  2. Lianne Latorre says:

    Paul – thank you so much for this wonderful piece! We cannot express how much this means to us! This HK team is so talented and so fun to watch! All of them are stars!

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