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  • Greg Lederer

Cheshire Softball Posts Semifinal Shutout, Reaches First State Final Since 2016

CHS softball earned a 4-0 victory over Southington in the Class LL semifinals. Submitted photo.

Cheshire softball celebrates after beating Southington on Tuesday.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

Back on April 25, the Cheshire High School softball celebrated a 4-1 victory at Southington. Sophomore pitcher Jenica Matos recorded a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts, while senior center fielder Karla Carangelo snapped a 1-1 tie with a three-run double.

When the rivals got back together in Tuesday’s Class LL semifinals at West Haven, a similar scenario played out. Matos pitched a one-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts, a walk, and a hit by pitch in a 4-0 victory.

Like in the first meeting against the Lady Knights, Carangelo came up clutch at the plate, driving in all four runs with a pair of two-out, two-run doubles.

“I was very patient up at bat,” said Carangelo. “I just wanted to hit something hard and hit something hard somewhere and I was able to do it because I was very calm up at the plate.” 

Tuesday’s game represented the 21st straight win for the top-seeded Rams (25-1). Southington (fourth seed) finished the season at 21-4.

“It feels awesome,” stated Matos, of the shutout. “Our energy was up the entire game. We had a game plan, we came in with that game plan, we stuck to it, and got it done.”

The quarterfinal started as a pitcher’s duel between Matos and Southington senior Maddie Furniss, but the Rams broke through in the third inning. Sophomores Jordan McCue (walk) and Ava Pearson (single) reached base in consecutive at bats.

Furniss came back with a strikeout, but with two outs, Carangelo snapped the scoreless game with her first two-run double to the fence in left center.

“I was fired up,” recalled Carangelo. “My teammates were all cheering me on, so it gave me a little bit of fire, too.”

CHS extended their lead in the fifth. Senior Emma Ballschmieder led off with a bloop single and she advanced on a sacrifice bunt by McCue. Pearson followed up with a bunt single to put two runners on base.

Cheshire tried a squeeze play, but on a bunt by junior Tai Byrd, Ballschmieder was tagged out at home plate. Like in the third inning, Carangelo provided another two-out double.

This time, she smacked the ball into right center to put the Rams up 4-0.

“She has become a consistent clutch hitter and that is not easy to do,” said Head Coach Kristine Drust. “You can come up and get base hits, but on this stage against a team like that and pitcher like that, it is what defines the difference between a good hitter and a great hitter. Karla Carangelo is a great hitter.”

In the circle, Matos had 11 strikeouts in the first five innings. She had another no-hitter going until Southington sophomore Olivia Gombotz singled up the middle with two outs in the sixth.

“I think my trust was working,” reflected Matos. “I had a bunch of trust in (Pitching Coach) Kelly (Hennessey) and (junior catcher) Erin (Hersh) and we just stuck to our plan and got it done.”

“You have a player like Jenica Matos and her preparation is unmatched,” said Drust. “You know (with) somebody like her, no matter whether you are her coach or you are not her coach, you want to see her find success because she deserves it. I’m so happy for her outside of being her coach and her helping our team get to a state championship game.”

With two outs in the seventh, Southington junior Shelby Jordan was hit by a pitch, but when she tried to steal second base, Hersh threw her out to end the game.

“They are both our defensive MVPs,” said Drust, of Hersh and Matos. “One doesn’t happen without the other. Catching an All-State Pitcher of the Year is not easy also. We try to show Erin just as much love whenever possible because she deserves it. I’m really glad that she had those moments at the end of the game to really shine for us.”

Along with drawing a walk, Pearson reached base three times against Southington. Junior Bailey Vitanza joined Ballschmieder with a single.

On Saturday, the Rams will travel to University of Connecticut’s Burrill Family Field to face defending champion Fairfield Ludlowe (seventh seed, 21-5) in the Class LL final at 1 p.m. Back on May 10, Cheshire earned a 12-0 shutout of Sheehan at UConn.

“I feel awesome. Going back at UConn is definitely a dream school for me,” said Matos. “It is really awesome trying to get there and get to play on the field, especially in a state championship.”

CHS is seeking their second state title. Back in 2016, Cheshire earned their first crown and unbeaten season (27-0) with a 5-0 victory over Amity.

“It is everything. You coach sports and play sports to feel that feeling in your heart of absolute glory,” stated Drust. “We are going to enjoy this for a few hours before we start to prepare for the next game. We are going to sit back and enjoy this for a little bit.”

Saturday will also represent the final contest for Cheshire’s senior class of Ballschmieder, Carangelo, and Taylor Kozlowski.

“There is no better ending to a story,” said Drust. “Those three girls have truly led our team with maturity, unselfishness, and are so very deserving.”

“It (senior year) has gone by really fast, to say the least,” reflected Carangelo. “It has been a really fun season, it has just gone by fast.”

Pitcher Jenica Matos recorded 13 strikeouts against Southington.

Above and below in the Class LL semifinals, Karla Carangelo drove in all four runs with a pair of two-out, two-run doubles.

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