In a highly anticipated matchup, the No. 6 Cheshire Rams faced a tough challenge against the formidable No. 3 Newtown Nighthawks on Friday night at Lindell A. Hertberg Field.
Despite their valiant efforts, the Rams were unable to overcome the Nighthawks' late game heroics, ultimately falling 4-0 in the Class LL softball quarterfinals.
It was largely a pitching duel, with both teams showcasing their defensive prowess and strategic mastery.
However, in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Nighthawks capitalized on a crucial opportunity and unleashed an offensive surge to tally all four of their runs.
Newtown (23-2) advances to face No. 2 Fairfield Ludlowe (21-1) in the semifinals. Cheshire’s season is over at 18-7.
“Based on the seeding, we were the underdog, but it didn’t feel like that and that’s why I’m proud of them,” said Cheshire head coach Kristine Drust. “They wanted more and fought until the very last inning, so that’s what I’m proud of them for.”
Cheshire pitcher Karissa Spring delivered a phenomenal performance in her final game as a Ram. Spring's pitch repertoire and impeccable control kept the powerful Nighthawks at bay for the majority of the game. Her ability to remain composed under pressure, consistently delivering pinpoint pitches, frustrated the Nighthawks' attempts to gain an advantage.
“She has shown grit and passion and has been just an absolute gamer for our team the last four years,” Drust said of Spring. “She battled today; she absolutely battled. It was a pitching duel for a really long time and she really couldn’t do more to help our team win.”
In a game that was plagued by the looming threat of weather, the action kicked off as scheduled. Cheshire leadoff hitter Ava Pearson displayed a keen eye and drew a walk.
With one out, Pearson gambled and attempted to steal second base. However, Newtown's vigilant catcher, Brianna Pellicone, had other plans.
Just moments later, as the game was heating up, nature intervened. A sudden clap of thunder forced players and officials to halt the game temporarily.
After waiting out the weather delay, the teams returned to the field, eager to resume their battle. As the action shifted to the bottom of the first, Spring returned to the circle, ready to stifle the Newtown lineup.
Displaying a variety of pitches, Spring retired the side in order.
The game continued to unfold as a thrilling defensive showdown, with neither team able to break the scoreless deadlock. The pitchers kept batters off balance and the bases empty. It wasn't until the top of the third inning that the game saw its first hit.
It was delivered by Cheshire senior Jordan Chymbor, who sent a ball soaring toward the right-center field gap. Chymbor's hit turned into a blazing triple, igniting cheers from her teammates and Cheshire supporters.
Despite the electrifying hit and the potential scoring opportunity, Cheshire could not push the run across.
The bottom of the third brought Newtown’s first hit of the game. Designated hitter Gabrielle Ansman attacked the first pitch she saw and drove it sharply up the middle.
Spring was determined not to let the hit disrupt her rhythm. With a renewed intensity, Spring dug deep and delivered a punch-out and fly out to retire the side.
Newtown had another chance to break the scoreless tie in the fourth. With two outs, Caroline Gardner sent a sharply hit ground ball slicing through the left side, evading fielders and reaching all the way to the fence. As the outfield scrambled to retrieve the ball, Gardner rounded second and slid safely into third base just ahead of the throw.
With each pitch in the ensuing at-bat, the tension mounted, the anticipation palpable. Finally, on a climactic pitch, Spring ended the inning with a strikeout.
In the top of the fifth, with one out on the board, Molly Fleming of Cheshire managed a single through the right side of the infield. However, Newtown's defense swiftly reacted. The next batter hit a ground ball to the first baseman, who turned a double play.
The intensity continued to escalate as the scoreless tie extended into the bottom of the sixth, with the prospect of extra innings looming.
Spring continued her dominance by striking out the leadoff batter, recording her fourth K of the game.
A well-placed single followed, but Spring got the second out of the inning via a pop-up.
Newtown refused to surrender, mounting a relentless push. Gardner smacked a single through the left side and advanced to second base on the throw.
With two runners in scoring position, Cheshire made a strategic decision, opting to intentionally walk Newtown pitcher Sydney Adolfson to load the bases and set up a force at home.
With the game on the line, Sophia Caruso stepped to the plate and drove a shot deep into center field. The fielders raced back, desperately attempting to make a game-saving catch, but the ball landed just beyond their reach.
Caruso's booming shot resulted in a bases-clearing double and a 3-0 Newtown lead.
Addison Cordova followed with a powerful hit to left field, legging out a double and driving in another run that completed the scoring.
Despite the loss, the Rams finished with a noteworthy 18-7 record that included a pair of state tournament wins over Westhill and Trumbull.
“You really do forget wins and losses, but the things you remember are the people you are standing alongside and the relationships and the fun that we had,” Drust said. “That’s what I want them to take away. Yes, this is a competitive game, but leaving here today they had a blast and that’s because of the relationships we’ve made in this program.
“They just left everything, from their preparation to how they play the game. They really couldn’t have emptied their tank more with leaving this program better than they found it.”