Pictured: Middletown’s Abby Young slides into third base ahead of the throw for a fifth-inning triple. She later scored on a sacrifice fly by Caitlin Burgess.

By Paul Augeri

MIDDLETOWN – Sal Morello has to think back six seasons to remember the last time his Middletown High softball lineup had the balance and depth it does now to score runs.

And it sure does score lots of runs.

Maloney’s ace was not available for Wednesday’s CCC South game and the Blue Dragons took advantage. Trailing 4-0 in the third inning, they took seven bases on balls and scored eight runs  on the way to an 11-8 win over the Spartans at Hank Hiller Field.

Abby Young with Middletown coach Sal Morello at third base after she belted a triple in the fifth.

Middletown’s offense has produced 98 runs in its 8-1 start primarily with a lineup of four freshmen (Kyleigh Franklin, Carly Weisenberg, Peyton Morello, Mikayla Gaboury), three juniors (Abby Young, Caitlin Burgess, Katelyn Cogshall) and two seniors (Angelina Vartuli, Kalia Daniels).

“Not having their best pitcher obviously hurt, because (Maloney’s) a good team,” Morello said after Middletown’s eighth win in nine games. “I liked the way we came back and responded after falling behind. The girls were a little flat at the start, but they came back ready to play and responded. We put pressure on them.”

Franklin and Cogshall had run-scoring hits in Middletown’s big inning.

In the fourth, the Blue Dragons tacked on two more runs, one on Morello’s RBI groundout. In the fifth, Young tripled to deep left field and scored on a sacrifice fly by Burgess.

“We’re really hitting,” Morello said. “Usually in the past it’s taken us a while. Prior to today, we hit Coventry (in a 7-5 loss) and we earned all five of those runs.

Angelina Vartuli
Senior Angelina Vartuli has locked in as Middletown’s primary starter during the team’s 8-1 start. “She has really developed and worked really hard in the offseason. She continues to impress,” coach Sal Morello said.

“What I liked today was we moved the runner over, or got the sacrifice fly. We’re doing those little things. We have been bunting really well. We’re playing small ball, which is something we haven’t done last few years. It’s been an emphasis.”

With just 17 rostered players in all classes, Morello decided against having a junior varsity squad this season. The underclassmen have taken to their roles, and it makes one think how strong this team will be in the coming seasons.

“Without a JV team I’m trying to get all of the girls at-bats,” he said. “It’s difficult. It’s not easy. But to their credit they stay ready. The girls coming off the bench have been giving me some decent at-bats, too. We’re trying to include everyone here as much as we can.”

Vartuli has settled in as The Pitcher after being part of a three-arm rotation last spring. Morello did not have an overpowering No. 1, so he leaned on a committee with varying styles to keep the Blue Dragons in games.

“It was the best way to keep the score down and teams off-balance,” the coach said. “Angelina’s done a nice job. She limited the damage today. She stayed away from the big innings and came up with big strikeouts. She has really developed and worked really hard in the offseason. She continues to impress.”

And Middletown’s defense rewarded her by making the routine plays.

“She pitched to contact and we were making plays in the infield,” Morello said. “We weren’t doing this in the last few years, making the routine plays, and we really made it hard on our pitching. We’re not doing that now. We’re giving teams three outs, giving them 21 outs.”

At the plate, Franklin has been on a tear of late. Daniels, who has two “legit” home runs, and Weisenberg also have been among the team’s top producers.

“Kyleigh is our 3-hitter as a freshman and she hits. It’s not a fluke,” Morello said. “What I like about this team is our balance. One through nine, it’s the most balanced lineup I’ve had since 2017. And a couple kids off the bench can hit. So far, so good with the offense.”

Middletown defeated Bristol Eastern 12-7 on Monday and has a return date with the Lancers on Friday at MHS. The Dragons currently rank, with 9-2 Maloney, in the top five in Class LL by won-lost record.

“This is a young group, but they come out and play,” Morello said. “And now, they expect to win. It’s a good thing. They are coming to the field wanting to win instead of, you know. ‘what’s going to happen today?’ “I see their confidence growing, no doubt.”

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