DURHAM — Thomaston softball coach Kelly Finlay knew her hitters had quite the challenge in front of them in facing savvy right-hander Kelly Boothroyd of Coginchaug.
“You try to do your best to prepare, but definitely at this stage of the game you face pitchers that can throw hard,” Finlay said after Saturday’s CIAC Class S quarterfinal, “and she has a lot of pitches and a lot of movement. Unfortunately we’re not really used to that coming from the Berkshire League. We see a couple of hard throwers, but we don’t see a lot of movement.”
Coginchaug coach Steve DeMartino was more to the point after watching his senior ace finesse her way to a one-hitter and the Blue Devils advance to the semifinals with a 5-0 victory over the Bears.
“I actually scouted them the previous game and knew Kelly was going to mow them down today,” he said. “I know they had never faced anybody that moves the ball like that. Even though Kelly has that speed, she moves it. What happened was exactly what I expected to happen. I thought Thomaston was going to struggle to hit.”
No. 4 seed Coginchaug (18-3) will play in its second straight Class S semifinal, where it will meet No. 1 Notre Dame of Fairfield (an 11-2 winner over No. 8 Cromwell). The Blue Devils were runner-up in 2019 with Boothroyd on the mound in a 3-2 loss to Somers.
Boothroyd struck out 12 and allowed just two base runners. She gave up a two-out single to Kristen Foell in the first inning before retiring the next 14 in a row. She walked Emma Sanson in the sixth with one out, then got out of the inning on a groundout and liner.
No. 5 seed Thomaston (15-5) went down quietly in the seventh on a pop-up and two strikeouts. The Bears struggled to nail down the timing on Boothroyd’s mix of fastballs and change-ups and the tail on her pitches.
“I’m going to keep saying she had a lot of movement,” Finlay said. “The movement was fantastic. They were fantastic pitches. You saw us swinging out of our shoes at some of those outside pitches. It’s very hard to watch it come in as a strike and curve out to the left, and then she’d come in with an inside pitch after that. It threw us all off-balance, but we gave it our best shot.”
Boothroyd said throwing a strike on her first pitch of the game put her in a good frame of mind.
“Honestly, I didn’t know how it was going to go today,” she said. “My warmup was not that good. I was very nervous going into the game. The first-pitch strike set a whole new tone. Like Ava as the first batter, she gets a hit and it sets a whole different vibe than if she wasn’t to get a hit. That strike really set me up and gave me confidence after the warmup.”
Coginchaug had 11 hits off of Thomaston junior Kaya Johnson, with top-of-the-lineup batters Ava Marenna and Amalia DeMartino combining to go 7 for 8. Third baseman Marenna had three hits, an RBI and run scored and shortstop DeMartino, in her final game on her home field, was 4 for 4 with a double, triple, RBI and run scored.
“(Johnson) was not as fast as what we’re used to, so I kept thinking Wait for the outside’ pitch so it would force me to wait longer and drive it up the middle,” said DeMartino, who had two hits through the left side and two into the gap in right-center. “In order to win this game we had to hit.”
It looked as if Coginchaug would jump on the board in its half of the first when Marenna led off with a single and DeMartino doubled her to third. After Dana Boothroyd grounded to third, Kelly Boothroyd walked to load the bases. But Johnson got Jackie Kelly to fly to left and Amanda Case to ground into a fielder’s choice to escape the jam.
Johnson wouldn’t be as fortunate in the second inning, when the Blue Devils broke through with four runs. With one out, Natalie Ness and Alayna Mariani hit consecutive singles up the middle. So did Marenna, who drove home Ness. DeMartino poked a hit through the left side to score Mariani, and after Dana Boothroyd lined out to left fielder Ava Harkness, Kelly dropped in a blooper to left, scoring both Marenna and DeMartino, who crossed just before Dana Boothroyd was thrown out at third in a bid to move up.
The Devils tacked on their final run, which was unearned, in the fifth. Kelly, who reached on an infield error, scored on a sacrifice fly by Allison Strang.
Although Steve DeMartino said he was a bit disappointed that his offense didn’t more with runners in scoring position, he enjoyed seeing the production from his daughter and Marenna at the top of the lineup.
“Coach is always like, ‘You’re the leadoff, get us started,’” Marenna said. “I love hitting the first strike. And Amalia is just one of those people who gets on base.”
“It was a ripple effect,” DeMartino said, turning to her teammate. “Every time you got a hit, I got a hit — except for the last time.”
Marenna grounded to third in the sixth before DeMartino smacked her triple with out in the final plate appearance at her home field.
“Ava and Amalia at the top were on fire today,” their coach said. “When your top two do that, good things usually happen.”