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  • Greg Lederer

Cheshire Softball Comes Up Just Short In Class LL Final Thriller

Bailey Vitanza smiles in receiving her medal after the Class LL final. Photo by Greg Lederer.

On Saturday, Cheshire and Fairfield Ludlowe softball battled for 10 innings. Photo by Greg Lederer.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

As scoreless innings mounted on the scoreboard at University of Connecticut’s Burrill Family Family, spectators around the complex wondered what it would take to snap the scoreless stalemate in Saturday’s Class LL softball final. Finally in the 10th inning, Cheshire High School and Fairfield Ludlowe exploded for a combined five runs.

Unfortunately for the Rams, they came up a run short against the defending champions. Facing a 3-0 deficit in the bottom of the 10th, Cheshire (top seed, 25-2) responded with two runs, but were unable to get the equalizer and fell 3-2 to the Falcons (seventh seed, 23-7)

Cheshire brought a 21-game win streak into their first state title game since 2016.

“It was definitely difficult, but we knew we had to trust each other,” said sophomore pitcher Jenica Matos, of battling for 10 innings. “We fell short, but that’s alright. We are just going to come back harder and get it done next year.”

In the top of the 10th inning, Fairfield manufactured the game’s first three runs. Junior Alexa Mills and sophomore Angie Tavella led off with walks and then advanced on a sacrifice bunt by junior Gina Solow.

On a wild pitch, Mills slid into home plate for the first run. The Rams picked up the second out on a fielder’s choice, however, senior Rosanna Merturi extended the inning with a walk.

Senior Lauren Foley hit a long fly ball into the outfield and two runs came around to score on the play. An error was charged on the line drive.

Matos ended the inning with a strikeout.

Down to their last three outs, CHS didn’t go down without a fight. To lead off the inning, sophomore Molly Fleming was hit by a pitch.

After a pop out, sophomore Jordan McCue ended the shutout with an RBI double to left.

“It felt good to be able to cut the deficit in our score,” stated McCue. “It felt good to start it up.”

Sophomore Ava Pearson and junior Tai Byrd earned consecutive walks to load the bases for senior Karla Carangelo, who drove in McCue with an RBI sacrifice fly.

“It was good. In the situation I was in, I just wanted to get something going,” explained Carangelo.

The Rams had momentum on their side, however, Fairfield senior pitcher Alex Lewey induced a pop up behind home plate and junior catcher Allie Tournas made the catch to end the game.

“We absolutely believed. I knew that it was just going to be a matter of time before we started putting something together. It was just an out too late,” reflected Head Coach Kristine Drust. “We told our girls that we had to believe for seven innings. Today, we had to believe for 10 innings and I think they did and I think they showed that.” 

In her state final debut, Matos pitched a three-hitter with 16 strikeouts and nine walks in a complete-game effort.

“She is going to continue to do that for us every single game. She is consistent. She’s a horse,” stated Drust. “Her preparation does it. This is what Jenica Matos is going to give Cheshire softball every time she walks out there. We have to do our part to score runs for her.”

The majority of Saturday’s game was a pitcher’s duel between Matos and Lewey. The girls gave up just eight hits combined and recorded 26 strikeouts.

Throughout the game, Lewey worked the inside part of the plate against the Rams.

“We knew what she was bringing to us today,” said Drust. “She is a really good pitcher. She spins it (the ball). You get under her pitches a lot. We did our fair share of preparation and we started putting something together at the end there, but we just really couldn’t get much going offensively just like them.” 

In the bottom of the first inning, McCue (HBP) and Carangelo (intentional walk) reached base, but Fairfield used a pop out to end the inning.

In the top of the fourth, Fairfield loaded the bases with three walks, but Matos struck out the side to keep the Falcons off the scoreboard.

In the bottom of the fourth, junior catcher Erin Hersh took second base on a throwing error, yet, Lewey recorded two strikeouts to finish the frame.

Both squads got their first hits in the fifth. For Fairfield, Solow ended the no-hitter and then Tournas walked, but, Cheshire got out of the jam with a fielder’s choice.

CHS threatened in the bottom half. McCue reached on a two-out single and when she stole second base, a throwing error allowed her to sprint into third.

The Rams tried to execute a squeeze play, however, when the ball popped up off the bat of Pearson, Tournas made a diving catch in front of the plate.

“They (the Falcons) are definitely a hard team to play. They are good and talented,” said McCue. “We did what we could.”

In the sixth, Carangelo and Hersh posted consecutive singles, but junior pinch runner Julia Miller was thrown out at third base and Fairfield picked up a ground out to end the inning.

Cheshire had an opportunity to win the game in the bottom of the seventh. Sophomore Lyla Blair (single) and Fleming (HBP) both reached to start the inning, but the Falcons caught a bunt attempt and then Foley snagged a pop fly and stepped on second base for a double play.

“I just knew we had to score first. It was always important for us to score first and we just didn’t,” recalled Carangelo.

In the top of the eighth, Solow led off with a single, but following a sacrifice bunt, Carangelo caught a fly ball in center field and then threw to third base to get a double play.

“I knew that she was going to go and I just try to get it (the ball) there as fast as I could,” reflected Carangelo.

After the teams traded momentum swings in the 10th, Fairfield pulled out the tight win to defend their state crown.

The Rams will graduate a small senior class of Carangelo, Emma Ballschmieder, and Taylor Kozlowski, but the group made an impact on the program.

“It is just a family,” said Carangelo. “We are very close and perform well together. That was nice.”

“Those seniors made a choice this year that we were going to become a team. It’s not easy and we did it,” added Drust. “I know that their leadership was one of the reasons why we were so successful this year.”

Drust spoke highly of her squad’s chemistry.

“I’m really proud of our team. I know we have a trophy here, but this team was hands down the best team that I’ve ever had here as far as dynamics goes. We have a lot of skilled players who come through Cheshire all the time, but this team made some really hard choices this year,” explained Drust. “In this climate of sports, it’s really hard to find a team that is all unselfish and all ready to put their own goals aside for the betterment of the team and this team did that this year. I like to say that I have 28 trophies walking on the bus right now. I’m really really proud of our girls.”

For returning Rams, the state final will serve as motivation.

“We are just going to come back fired up next year and we are going to get it done,” said Matos.

Cheshire pitcher Jenica Matos fired 16 strikeouts against Fairfield Ludlowe.

Karla Carangelo singles to left on Saturday.

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