In practice, Cheshire High School softball coaches make a point to create game situations, so that players are prepared for many things they may encounter in a contest.
That preparation paid off in last Thursday’s Southern Connecticut Conference final at West Haven. The Rams took a 5-4 lead into the bottom of the seventh, but to lead off the inning, Amity sophomore Grace Harrington capitalized on an error to sprint around into third base.
With their lead hanging in the balance, the Rams used a defensive sequence to pave the way for victory. Senior pitcher Bri Pearson caught a line drive off the bat of Amity senior pitcher Kelly Pritchard and then threw to third base for a double play.
“The ball was smacked back to me. I stuck my hand out and it hopped in my glove,” explained Pearson, who has a 19-2 record as pitcher this year. “At the start of that (seventh) inning, we knew that we had to take it one pitch at a time.”
After the double play, Pearson induced a ground out to clinch Cheshire’s fourth tournament title in a span of five years.
“It is unreal feeling,” said Pearson, a co-captain with seniors Dee Floyd, Gracie Hemstock, Trinadey Santiago, and Ella Watson. “When you are a freshman, you don’t realize how fast time goes by. It means so much to share this (title) with my team.”
The top-seeded Rams (20-2) took a 2-1 lead in the season series with Amity (third seed) and avenged a 4-3 loss on May 14.
“Softball is a game of runs,” stated Head Coach Kristine Drust. “The ball bounced our way tonight, but I thought up to that point, we put ourselves in position to win.”
The SCC Player of the Year and Tournament Most Outstanding Player, Pearson (19-2) yielded eight hits and two walks in the title game, recording four strikeouts. At the plate, she tallied a pair of RBI singles to drive in the game’s first and final runs.
“It says a lot about Bri to not just pitch in this atmosphere, but also focus at the plate and come up with key hits,” explained Drust. “She stays composed at all times.”
In a title game that saw four lead changes, the Rams had to battle to come away victorious.
Amity threatened with two singles in the first inning, but Cheshire used a strikeout and ground out to get out of a jam. The Rams returned to score first in the bottom half.
Junior Grace Lurz led off with a walk, advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Watson, and scored on Pearson’s first single.
“In getting into the batter’s box, I want to keep our momentum going,” said Pearson. “When someone gets a big hit, it pumps everyone up.”
The Spartans came back to take their only lead, 2-1, in the third. Senior Juliette Zito reached on an error and Carrington followed with a single. Both runners scored on a two-run single by senior Olivia Greco.
CHS came right back to put up three runs in the bottom of the third. After Lurz hit a single, Watson tallied a bunt single and an error allowed Lurz to score and tie the game.
“It was awesome to use our run game,” said Lurz. “That got everyone on our team going.”
Cheshire continued to execute small ball, as Santiago put down an RBI bunt single to bring in Watson. Pearson reached on a fielder’s choice and after coming in to run for her, sophomore Kyla Kampf scored the fourth run on an error.
“Trin (Santiago) is an amazing bunter. Some people may question why you would bunt with your number three hitter, but we trust Trin to execute and she came through for us,” stated Drust.
Amity responded with two runs to tie the game in the fourth. Senior Nicole Bier led off with a double and came around to score on an RBI fielder’s choice by sophomore Sydney Manzione.
Senior Corynne Chadwick and Zito hit consecutive singles, but in a key play, Watson fielded the ball in center field and threw out Chadwick at home plate to keep the game tied at 4-4.
“That was a big play,” said Watson. “We practice that situation all the time. I think my throw was a little off tonight, but I always know that Trin (Santiago) will get the ball and make the tag.”
Cheshire used a pop out to end the fourth inning and then retook the lead for good during the fifth. Watson worked a walk, moved up on a fielder’s choice, and scored the eventual winning run on Pearson’s second single.
After Cheshire held off the Spartans in the bottom of the seventh, the Rams celebrated on the field together.
“It is great to win this year,” stated senior baseman Kailey Sweigard, who fielded the final ground ball and threw to first base to end the game. “Two years ago, I contributed to us winning the (SCC) title, but didn’t get to play between the lines. Being out here this time means so much to me.”
While a senior, Santiago didn’t participate in the Rams winning the 2019 SCC title. She transferred from Danbury as a junior, but because the coronavirus pandemic led to the 2020 season being wiped out, Santiago didn’t get to play for CHS until this spring.
“It feels very good to get the championship,” said Santiago. “I think we worked hard to get here and earned it (the title).”
In the semifinals two days earlier, Cheshire hit three home runs in an 8-5 victory over Shelton (fifth seed). CHS built a 5-1 lead through three innings.
Santiago led the Rams offense, going four-for-four with two home runs (career high), a double, a single, and four RBIs. Along with singling twice at the plate, Pearson scattered eight hits and posted five strikeouts.
Sophomore Karissa Spring contributed a double and a single. Floyd (home run) and Sweigard (single) joined Spring with RBIs.
Lurz and freshman Karla Carangelo added singles in the victory.
After completing the SCC Tournament, CHS looks to carry momentum into the Class LL Tournament this week. After a bye in the first round, Cheshire (third seed) hosts Trumbull (14th seed, 14-6) on Wednesday at 4 p.m.