WEST HAVEN — You can call them the Comeback Kids.
For the second consecutive game in the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament, Cheshire found itself down going to its last at-bat. And twice, the Rams came back.
This time, the Rams tied it in the seventh inning on an unearned run and catcher Jade Barnes singled in the winning run in the top of the eighth as Cheshire captured its third SCC softball championship in the last four years with a 3-2 victory over North Haven at Biondi Field.
Just three days ago, Cheshire came back to beat Amity in the semifinals, 4-3, with three runs in the seventh inning.
“We’re trying to fight all game,” Cheshire coach Kristine Drust said. “When you play against good teams, it’s a battle every single inning. I’m proud of our kids. They just stayed tough.”
— Dave Phillips (@davephillips41) May 25, 2019
It was a battle of the last three SCC champions going into the contest. Cheshire (20-3) won the SCC title in both 2016 and 2017, while North Haven won it in 2018.
“You always imagine championships, but we try to get them prepared for every situation,” Drust said. “They are the ones on the field.”
North Haven took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. Cheshire pitcher Bri Pearson walked Caitlin Ranciato to lead off the inning. Haylee Garthwait grounded to shortstop Mia Juodaitis for what looked like a force play at second, but no one covered the bag. After Eryn Sheely sacrificed both runners to second and third, Gigi Russo hit a hard grounder back to Pearson, whose throw to the plate was up the first base line. Barnes couldn’t hang on to the throw as Ranciato took her legs out from under her.
The Indians had an opportunity to score again but Garthwait was gunned down at the plate when Pearson threw her out.
Don't count the @CHSRamsSoftball team out! The Rams come back to win the SCC Tourney title over North Haven in a game filled with big plays! 4th SCC Title for Cheshire @SCCcommissioner pic.twitter.com/i15szSJXtq
— John Pierson (@JPPierson) May 25, 2019
North Haven added another run in the bottom of the third to make it 2-0. Indians’ pitcher Lauren Card helped herself with a single, followed by singles by Ranciato and Garthwait to bring in the run.
After that, Pearson only allowed one North Haven (20-3) runner to reach third base.
“We got the lead and sat back a little bit,” North Haven coach Karen Castagnola said. “When they got some runners on, we got a little tight.’
Cheshire came right back in the top of the fourth. Ari Perlini reached on an error with one out and went to third on a single up the middle by Pearson. One out later, Lexie Hemstock singled to plate Perlini.
The Rams rallied to tie things in the top of the seventh.
Barnes led off the top of the seventh inning with a walk. After Grace Lurz laid down a sacrifice bunt to move courtesy runner Sophia Vagts to second, Juodaitis singled to left. However, Olivia Peterson made a perfect throw on the fly to the plate to nail Vagts at the plate. Bri Floyd followed with a walk to put runners on the corners. And when it seemed as if the game would be over when Perlini grounded to third, the Rams got a new life when the throw to first was dropped by first baseman Eryn Sheeley as Juodaitis scored the tying run.
Cheshire got some help again from North Haven in the top of the eighth as Emma Watkinson reached on an error and went to second on a fielders’ choice. After Lindsey Abramson flied out, Barnes became the hero with a single to rightcenter to bring home the game winner.
“My first mindset was she (Card) was going both inside and out,” said Barnes, who was named the Danni Kemp Most Valuable Player of the tournament. “I knew I had to attack the pitch that I see on the plate. I wasn’t striking out again.”
“I’m so happy and she deserves this moment,” Drust said. “She’s 100 percent a fighter. She’s our heartbeat behind the plate.”
North Haven didn’t go down quietly in the bottom of the eighth. With one out, Garthwait and Sheeley both singled, but Pearson fanned both Russo and Alex Ferriouolo to end the contest.
“It is a brutal one,” Castagnola said. “We’re going to pick up tomorrow and get ready for states. That’s a good team (Cheshire) and the bottom line is we made too many errors (five).”