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  • Greg Lederer

Cheshire Softball Avenges Loss To Newtown, Reaches First State Semi Since 2019

Cheshire softball posed for a selfie after getting their 20th straight win in the Class LL quarterfinals. Submitted photo.

Jenica Matos clinched Friday's softball victory with her 14th strikeout.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

Last spring in the Class LL quarterfinals, Cheshire High School softball saw their season come to an end in a 4-0 loss at Newtown.

On Friday, the Rams had the chance to return the favor on their home diamond. In a quarterfinal rematch, CHS (top seed, 24-1) posted a 5-0 shutout of Newtown (ninth seed, 18-8) to extend their win streak to 20 games.

“We definitely wanted our revenge. We really wanted to win this game,” reflected junior third baseman Tai Byrd. “It hit a little different than some of our other games because they did end our season last year. You don’t ever want to end your season with a group of girls that you want to play with.”

CHS put up two runs in the first and third innings against Newtown. They also scored in the fourth.

“As competitors right, just to be able to grab it back (the win) the next year always feels nice,” added Head Coach Kristine Drust. “Listen, they (the Nighthawks) are a good team. I think what helped us is that we hopped on them really quick in that first inning and I think it just gave everybody the comfort and the ease and the confidence and being loose just from the get go having those two runs in our back pocket. I think that really set the tone for the rest of the game. It gave us momentum that you can’t buy. In a game like this, scoring first is a huge momentum boost.”

In the circle, sophomore Jenica Matos pitched a two-hit shutout with 14 strikeouts and four walks. She struck out the side in the third and fifth innings.

Matos had a no-hitter going until sophomore Gillian Boughan singled to center with two outs in the fifth inning. Drust feels that her starting pitcher’s success doesn’t come by accident.

“Jenica Matos prepares to win in big games and big moments,” explained Drust. “People are asking a lot about her being a sophomore and how she is doing this? It is because she prepares for it. It is not easy. When we’re not practicing, she is practicing. After practices, she is practicing. She deserves to have it (success) because of her preparation." 

On Friday, CHS jumped ahead 2-0 in the first inning. Sophomore Jordan McCue led off with a walk and stole second base.

Newtown picked up a strikeout and a ground out, but with a runner in scoring position, senior center fielder Karla Carangelo stepped up with a two-run home run to center.

“She has been clutch,” stated Drust. “The box score doesn’t always show how well she did hit the ball because she has hit streamers at people. She is hitting the ball so well at people and over the fence. It is just a really great time for her right now.”

A similar scenario played out during the third inning. McCue reached first base again, this time on a single, and stole second.

She scored on Cheshire’s second two-run home run. For this blast, Byrd drove the ball over the fence in left field.

“It definitely felt good for me to hit the home run,” recalled Byrd, who also homered twice in Wednesday’s 13-0 win over New Canaan. “I hit before Karla (Carangelo), but like trying to hit after that (her home run), is always kind of tough. I’m glad that I was able to get it in.” 

“Tai Byrd works harder than anybody I’ve ever seen on swinging and hitting and just getting mentally and physically right,” said Drust. “She deserves all of that (success). She really does.”

Carangelo and junior catcher Erin Hersh worked consecutive walks in the third, however, Newtown sophomore pitcher Addison Cordova got a fly out to end the inning.

CHS returned to cap the scoring in the fourth. Sophomore Molly Fleming worked a one-out walk and then sprinted to third on a double by senior Emma Ballschmieder.

After junior Madison Thoesen came to pitch for Newtown, McCue put down a bunt and the RBI hit allowed Fleming to dive safely into home plate.

“Jordan is simple and she is not complex in the box. She just keeps it very simple and loose and fast and she just figures a way to get the job done and that is why she is our leadoff (hitter),” explained Drust. “She gets an amazing jump at first base, with (sophomore right fielder) Ava (Pearson) coming in second (in our order). Jordan and Ava have really set the tone for us scoring runs this year.”

Newtown threatened to end the shutout in the sixth. Sophomore Julia Berry and senior Brianna Pellicone both earned walks, but Matos induced a ground out and then recorded a strikeout to strand the runners at second and third base.

In the seventh, junior Sophia Caruso singled for Newtown’s second hit with one out, but Matos retired the next two hitters to end the game. Following her 14th strikeout, Matos celebrated the victory with her teammates.

“I’m really happy with the team,” stated Byrd. “Jenica pitched really well. She has been pitching well all season. I can’t really ask for more. Our bats were good today. We didn’t have a ton of hits like (against) New Canaan, but it was what we needed today and it worked.”

The quarterfinal was the final home game for Cheshire’s senior class of Carangelo, Ballschmieder, and Taylor Kozlowski.

The Rams have now reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2019. CHS will play the winner of Saturday’s game between Southington (fourth seed, 20-3) and Darien (12th seed, 16-6) on June 3 or June 4 at a time and site to be announced.

“Perspective (wise) as a young coach, I would probably be just all about winning,” reflected Drust. “With this team, this is hands down the best dynamic team we’ve ever had. They are unselfish, they care about one another, they are kind to one another, they are free of judgement, and accepting. They all truly love one another. I just want all of us to have more time together.”

Karla Carangelo (above) and Tai Byrd (below) both blasted two-run home runs on Friday.

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