DURHAM — Connor Rulnick’s Coginchaug teammates will need some new material now that he officially has more than “warning-track power.”
The Clark University-bound senior hit a belt-high fastball over the fence in right field Monday, a two-run, seventh-inning shot that gave the Blue Devils an 8-6 victory over Haddam-Killingworth at Helmuth H. Brown Field.
“My first couple of at-bats (two strikeouts following a first-inning walk) were a little rough,” said Rulnick, the team’s veteran center fielder. “I was passing my hands out, so I just looked for an inside fastball, something I could drive, and I was able to get the barrel out pretty well.”
The Blue Devils (9-3) crept their way back from a five-run, first-inning deficit to win their third straight game and keep pace with Portland (11-1) and H-K (10-2) in the Shoreline Conference regular-season race.
“Everyone did their jobs today. That’s the most important thing,” Rulnick said.
Reliever Eli Rivera retired H-K’s Nos. 3-4-5 hitters in order in the top of the seventh for the win on a day that began with the debut of freshman right-hander Connor Willett, whose father played for H-K coach Mark Brookes.
Although Willett allowed five runs on five hits in the first inning, he retired H-K in order in the second. In the third, H-K’s attempt to pad its early lead was denied when Alec Erskine was thrown out at the plate on a grounder to third.
In the sixth, two innings after the Blue Devils tied the score at 5, H-K regained the lead when Sam Luther singled off reliever Griffin Biro, advanced to third on Jon Civiello’s two-out double and scored on a passed ball. It was the only dent H-K was able to make against Biro in his three innings of work.
Coginchaug’s seventh-inning rally began with Derek Grant poking a sharp ground ball to left field, just out of the reach of third baseman Luke DiMauro.
“When the first guy in the seventh gets a hit at home, you got trouble,” Brookes said.
Devin Geoghegan followed and made contact with a check swing on Alden Halfinger’s 0-2 pitch. The liner had just enough on it to get through the hole between first and second, sending Grant to third. Grant scored on a wild pitch to tie the game at 6.
Rulnick hit a 1-1 pitch with such force that the ball appeared gone on contact.
“Every inning we chipped away, chipped away, and got ourselves into a position where we’re in this thing,” Coginchaug coach Mark Basil said. “And we had some timely hitting and our pitching was big for us.”
Kolbe Pascarelli homered as part of a 2 for 3 day and scored two runs for Coginchaug, while Grant had two hits and an RBI and Owen Clancy had an RBI single.
“We talked about ‘you gotta battle.’ We’re the two best teams in the league,” Rulnick said. “We suit up every day, we want to get a win no matter the opponent, but when we beat HK it’s a little extra on top of that. Those guys are unbelievable. We always battle with them and look forward to playing them two times year. Hopefully we’ll play them again.”
Halfinger, who relieved starter Christo Garrelts with one out in the fourth, took the loss. He retired the first eight batters, five on strikeouts, before the Blue Devils rallied. Garrelts was charged with five runs on five hits. He walked one, hit two batters and struck out six.
“After we put up five, now the pitching and defense has to take it over,” Brookes said. “I think Christo will admit he’s pitched better. Coginchaug kept scratching to get a run here, a run there, and then they shut us down.
“Today had that feel like, you know that we were going to be in a tough one even though we scored five in the first inning.”