NORTH BRANFORD — With an exception or two, North Branford had been sailing through its schedule, handily beating team after team.
But the Thunderbirds, ranked 4th in the state poll, ran into its most difficult opponent of the season, barely getting by Shoreline Conference rival Coginchaug 3-2 on Friday.
“It was definitely needed and was a little wake-up call for us,” North Branford coach Nick DeLizio said. “I told the girls it’s not a cakewalk and you’re going to get tested. We have to find a way to win ballgames like this and they did.”
His players agreed.
“We needed a tight game to scare us,” said left fielder Amy Raucci, who drove in the game-winner in the third inning. “From here on out, all of our games will be close like this.”
North Branford (15-0), took a 1-0 lead in the first when Jada Miconi walked, stole second, went to third on a fielders’ choice and scored on a single by Kayla Despres.
Coginchaug (10-3) bounced back in the next half inning to tie things at 1-1 off Thunderbirds’ southpaw Sydney Senerchia (12-0). With two outs, Caroline Fournier popped up in foul territory near the plate for what looked like the third out. However, Despres and third baseman Miconi couldn’t decide who was going to make the play and the ball hit Miconi’s glove for an error extending the time at bat. Fournier then followed with a RBI single to center.
The Thunderbirds took the lead for good in the bottom of the third when DeMartino was a bit wild, walking both Olivia Hemstock and Danielle Ramada. Raucci was looking to make good contact but she belted the ball over the head of Blue Devils’ centerfielder Isabel Milardo for a two-run double that gave North Branford a 3-1 edge.
“I wanted to get a base hit, so we could move the runners over,” Raucci said. “I wasn’t trying to think big and do too much.”
After that, both teams went down quietly until the Blue Devils had a chance to tie things in the sixth. Senerchia hit Milardo with a pitch, ending a streak of 10 consecutive batters she retired. One out after she stole second and went to third on a fly out, Bailey Zettergen laid down a bunt. North Branford catcher Despres had Milardo caught in a rundown, but the throw was in the dirt, as Zettergen took second on the error. Alex Grenier followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-2.
But Senerchia, who has yet to give up and earned run this spring, got out of the jam by striking out Carly Lane to end the inning.
“I was a little concerned in a tight game,” DeLizio said. “Those are the games you want to coach in and they’ll make your team better.”
Coginchaug threatened again in the top of the seventh with one out when DeMartino singled to center. Pinch hitter Ashley Schuetz was sent up to the plate to bunt, but she popped up a bunt attempt for the second out.
“She one of our best bunters, but Sydney throws a good high fastball and she popped it up,” Coginchaug coach Tony Calcagni Jr. said. “We had to try and put someone in scoring position as you’re not going to be able to string together too many hits off her.”
After DeMartino stole second, Senerchia then struck out Katelyn Cummings to end the game.
“I focused on knowing I don’t have to strike everybody out,” Senerchia said. “If they put the ball in play, my team can make the plays. I’m more confident in the circle.”
Despite the loss, Calcagni was pleased with the way the Blue Devils played.
“I hate the term we have a young team, but we are so young, we never know what box of chocolates we’re going to get,” he said. “We played lousy the other day (in a 7-0 loss at Haddam-Killingworth) but we played well today. That’s a very good team over there and we played well against them.”