CROMWELL >> When you can relax and just play the game good things usually happen. That was the mindset the Haddam-Killingworth baseball team had on Wednesday at Fran Monnes Field.
Coming off back-to-back losses, the Cougars returned to form by pounding out 15 hits — eight by the bottom three spots in the order — and beat Cromwell 7-2 in the regular season finale for both teams.
Each have qualified for the upcoming Shoreline Conference tournament, however, the seeding is not yet set as North Branford and Morgan still have to play on Sunday.
As for the game it could control, Haddam-Killingworth did just about everything right.
“We had lost two in a row coming into today,” Haddam-Killingworth coach Mark Brookes said. “And we just weren’t approaching the game, weren’t preparing ourselves for the games. We spent a lot of time talking about it, working on it and I thought our approach [Wednesday] was good from start to finish.”
Eight of the nine spots in the Cougars’ order registered at least one hit and all nine reached base at least once, but it was the bottom of the order that did the most damage.
No. 9 hitter Anthony Marino went 3-for-4 with two RBIs and a run scored. In fact, the bottom three spots in coach Mark Brookes lineup went a combined 8-for-11 with a walk and four runs scored.
“He’s hitting well over .300,” Brookes said of Marino. “And has really produced this year. Last year he struggled at the plate and this year he’s squaring the ball up pretty good. Snd he’s a good bunter and base-runner. Whenever you can get production in terms of RBIs, that’s just extra.”
The big inning for the bottom three was the fourth when, with one out, Zack O’Toole, Jonathan Grasso and Marino each singled and each scored as the Cougars sent eight batters to the plate and took a 6-2 lead on Cromwell.
“We were relaxed,” Marino said. “Just came out, played our game. Took our time, got some hits together and then we were just in control after that. We calmed down. The other games we were a little up-tight.”
“We know we can count on everyone,” Marino said. “We’re solid throughout and whenever someone gets up we always have full confidence in them to do the job.”
As his teammates were building up the lead, H-K starting pitcher Luke Bauer was in the midst of retiring 12 Cromwell batters in a row. From the final out of the second inning to two outs in the sixth, the junior right-hander got eight ground balls and four fly balls while keeping the Panthers off base.
“He’s been working on his change-up,” Brookes said. “I think today was the first day he’s really used it effectively, so I think that was a key pitch for him. When he can throw three [pitches], he’s really tough.”
Bauer went six innings and allowed two runs on three hits while walking two and hitting one. He allowed one extra-base hit, an RBI double to Aidan Gagnon in the sixth immediately after he walked Noah Budzik to end his consecutive batters retired streak.
Jack DiMatteo closed out the Cougars’ 16th win of the year by getting a 5-4-3 double-play in the seventh and then stranding two runners with a fly ball to right to end it.
The 16 regular season wins are the most for Haddam-Killingworth since winning 19 in 2010.
The Cougars jumped on Cromwell starter Amir Nitowski early. Ty Schuler hit the first pitch of the game for a double and Owen Marica followed with a bunt base-hit. Trevor Mann drove in the first run with a ground out and Tyler Popp the second with a double down the left field line.
“You have to tip your cap to their hitters,” Cromwell coach Lou Pappariella said. “They certainly hit the ball hard against our pitcher and defensively we made a bunch of mistakes that helped them. So when you put those two things in combination — we’re going to be in for a long day and we were.”
The Panthers answered with a run in the bottom of the first when Luke Matchett came in on an error. But H-K came back with another in the second and this time Cromwell couldn’t reciprocate, thus ending its regular season with an even 10-10 record.
“I liked the fact that we were able to bounce back and score,” Pappariella said. “We just couldn’t put zeros up against them.”
Haddam-Killingworth 7, Cromwell 2
Haddam-Killingworth: 210 300 1 — 7 15 1
Cromwell: 100 001 0 — 2 5 0
(at Fran Monnes Field, Cromwell High School)
Batteries: HK — Luke Bauer (W), Jack DiMatteo (7) and Tyler Popp; C — Amir Nitowski (L), Aidan Gagnon (5), Dan Ambler (7) and Sean Melaven.
2B: HK — Ty Schuler, Tyler Popp; Aiden Gagnon.
RBI: HK — Ty Schuler, Owen Marica, Trevor Mann, Tyler Popp, Anthony Marino (2); C — Aiden Gagnon.
SB: HK — Ty Schuler, Owen Marica.
Team records: Haddam-Killingworth 16-4; Cromwell 10-10.