DURHAM — After seven innings’ worth of cold and wind Monday, Coginchaug’s afternoon ended with a 5-1 Shoreline Conference baseball victory over East Hampton. Then, right on cue, the sun pushed through heavy clouds at Helmuth H. Brown Field.
Add to this the season debut of senior right-hander Luke Garofalo and the Blue Devils (7-3) came away from their fourth straight win with a pretty warm feeling.
Garofalo, who sat out the first half of this season under CIAC transfer rules, overpowered East Hampton, striking out 11 of 13 batters he faced over four hitless innings. With his future Bryant College coach training a radar gun on him, Garofalo threw his fastball consistently at 88 mph and topped out at 91. Off-speed stuff not necessary Monday.
“I felt really good out there. Eleven strikeouts in four innings — I thought I exceeded what I expected to do,” said Garofalo, who played for Xavier last year.
Garofalo got through the first two innings with near-perfect efficiency — six strikeouts on 19 pitches. Fellow senior MacGuire O’Sullivan was playing second base, and from his vantage point he said he felt a sense of awe watching Garofalo set down hitters.
“It was almost boring to watch him do that, but it was also amazing at the same time,” he said.
O’Sullivan was his team’s catalyst at the plate. The first of his three run-scoring hits came in the first inning, when he drove in Cal Pitruzzello with a single to left field. Pitruzzello, the team’s tenacious leadoff hitter, had walked and stolen second to get into scoring position.
In the third, Garofalo, hitting second in the order, flied a double just inside the line in right field and scored when the lefty-hitting O’Sullivan lined another single to left. O’Sullivan scored on Connor Rulnick’s hit to give the Blue Devils a 3-0 lead.
Against Garofalo, East Hampton produced its only base runner when shortstop Cole Neidmann’s throw pulled Peter Onofrio off the bag in the fourth, allowing Jimmy Sullivan to reach. Garofalo struck out the next two batters though, ending the inning. His day was done, too, because Blue Devils coach Mark Basil wanted to keep his “newcomer” under a 50-pitch count.
Looking back on the games he spent in the dugout, Garofalo said he did what he could to support his teammates, offer tips on their at-bats and advice on how to face an opposing pitcher. On Monday, he was itching to toe the rubber.
“Being out all that time, my arm was rested,” he said. “I threw bullpens twice a week to be ready, and my arm felt pretty fresh today.”
Coginchaug put the game away with single runs in the fifth and sixth. O’Sullivan, who was moved down to the three hole to accommodate Garofalo, again drove in Pitruzzello.
“O’Sullivan was money today,” Basil said.
Pitruzzello drove in the sixth-inning run and finished with two hits, two runs scored and two steals.
East Hampton starter Patrick Farren threw four strong innings of his own, striking out six while allowing three runs on five hits.
“This was not one of our better games with the bats and the defense took a little while to get going,” Basil said. “Defense and pitching have been our strengths all year. We know our priorities and they start with pitching and defense.”
As May begins, Coginchaug has settled into the thick of the Shoreline race, and the challengers will keep coming. Still, they like their chances, especially now that they have Garofalo on the field going forward.
“7-3 at the halfway point is a pretty good start to the season,” O’Sullivan said. “Having him, with Cromwell (Wednesday’s opponent) and then H-K on Friday, we’re really looking forward to the challenge.”