MIDDLETOWN — Coginchaug’s softball team right now is playing at a level that Middletown hopes to reach when May rolls around. The Blue Devils have a lineup that can wear down an opponent, they’ve won five in a row to start the season and are positioned to push the Shoreline Conference’s top team, North Branford, for that title.
Middletown, meanwhile, is experiencing the highs and lows that a young team usually does. The Blue Dragons held the lead on four occasions in Saturday’s non-conference game at Moody School, but Coginchaug rallied for three runs in the seventh for a 7-5 victory.
“We’re young and we’re finding out a lot about ourselves,” Middletown coach Sal Morello said, “but we have one goal: to be better in May than we are now. We’re having a rough time putting it all together right now, at this moment. They will, though. They’ll put it together.”
Middletown (2-3) was playing its fifth game in six days. In terms of leads, the Dragons were in a lot of back-and-forth situations and that pattern was prevalent again Saturday — it held the lead on four different occasions.
Coginchaug tied the game at 4 in the sixth when Izzy Milardo drove in Skye Ryer with a two-out single. Middletown regained the lead in its half with a two-out rally as Grace DeRita singled, stole second and scored from there when left-handed hitter Janelle Franklin singled just inside the third-base line.
“I was worried coming in to this one because I consider Middletown to be a very good team, and we haven’t had a good success rate against them in recent years,” Coginchaug coach Tony Calcagni said. “We played a lot of tough games to this point. We can play at a high level or we can play under expectations, but we kept our composure.”
Coginchaug got its first two batters of the seventh, Bailey Zettergren, who is hitting lefty as a junior after two seasons batting from the right side, and Alexandria Grenier aboard with bunt hits. Cleanup hitter Carly Lane hit a popup behind the plate that dropped foul, then used her second life to single to left to tie the score at 5.
At this point, with starting pitcher Niya Earl laboring, Morello brought in power pitcher Dominique Highsmith for the second time in as many innings to try and get key outs, but Carina Mancini and Amalia DeMartino had RBI singles to give the Blue Devils a three-run cushion.
The bunt hits that started Coginchaug’s rally were difficult balls to turn into outs, but Morello said those plays must be made and will be a point of emphasis at practice.
“We’ve got to tighten it up defensively. Our bunt defense has been an issue,” he said. “Our defense was good (today), but it’s about the seventh innings. Teams are executing and we’re not making plays.
On defending against the bunt, he said “We have to keep repping it. I’m going to put them in a lot of uncomfortable positions in practice, but we have to keep doing it until we get it right.”
Middletown put two runners on in the seventh with one out, but Coginchaug right-hander Taylor McDermott induced two ground balls to end it.
DeRita had two hits and two stolen bases, Carley Gessaro had three hits and Ariana Albert singled twice and drove in three runs for Middletown.
Lane was 3 for 4 for Coginchaug, but the team’s most impactful hitter on this day was Milardo from the No. 9 spot. She had a run-scoring single in each of her three at-bats, and each hit tied the scored.
“Who knows where she should be hitting in the lineup?” Calcagni asked rhetorically. “We have two avenues to take with our lineup — spread them out or bunch them. I don’t think we have a dead spot. We’re at our deepest (with Saturday’s order) and if you put the ball in play, you can get lucky. And I’d rather be lucky than good, but as anyone will tell you, it’s good to be both.”
The win gave Coginchaug momentum for whenever it plays North Branford (their Monday matchup is expected to be washed out). The T-Birds have allowed only one run in their 6-0 start, and Calcagni knows his team will have to contend with senior Sydney Senerchia, one of the top pitchers in the state.
Middletown gets back to its CCC South schedule with road games this week against Bristol Central on Wednesday and Berlin on Friday in its quest to bounce back.
“This is not the start we wanted, but it’s just that, a start,” Morello said. “We’ll find a way to win these games in May.”
COGINCHAUG 6, MIDDLETOWN 4
COGINCHAUG 020 101 3—6 9 2
MIDDLETOWN 201 001 0—4 7 1
Records – C 5-0; Middletown 2-3. Batteries: C – Taylor McDermott with Amalia DeMartino; M – Niya Earl with Grace Derita. Highlights: C – Izzy Milardo 3-3 Amalia Demartino 2B and Carly Lane RBI; Middletown – Ariana Albert 2-4 2RBI