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  • Greg Lederer

Cheshire Softball Rides Momentum To First SCC Title Since 2021

On Thursday, Cheshire softball earned their sixth SCC crown and first since 2021. Photo by Greg Lederer.

Ava Pearson received the "Dani Kemp" Most Outstanding Player award for the SCC Tournament. Her older sister Bri earned the inaugural honor back in 2021. Photo by Greg Lederer.

From left, Jenica Matos, Karla Carangelo, and Jordan McCue posed after the SCC final. Photo by Greg Lederer.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

At the heart of a special season, Cheshire High School softball players have fed off of each other’s energy. When the Rams have found momentum, they have rarely given it up.

Thursday’s Southern Connecticut Conference final was no exception. At West Haven’s Biondi Field, the top-seeded Rams (22-1) earned their 18th consecutive win, 7-2, over North Haven (second seed, 20-3).

“It feels great,” stated sophomore right fielder Ava Pearson. “We’ve been working on it all year. Everything has been leading up to it and all of our hard work has finally paid off. We are looking forward to states.”

With the score tied at 1-1 against NH, CHS scored six runs combined in the fourth and fifth innings to pull away for the victory.

“I’m super happy for the girls,” said Cheshire’s Kristine Drust, the 2024 SCC Coach of the Year. “They’ve worked really hard building their skills and not just their skills, but their connection with one another and dynamic with one another. That is most important to me. I think the girls truly know that the dynamic and being a team is truly what got us here this year.”

The tournament title was Cheshire’s sixth overall and first since 2021. After winning the crown in their freshman year, seniors Emma Ballschmieder, Karla Carangelo, and Taylor Kozlowski got to celebrate again in her final season.

“I was actually thinking about that when I was in center (field),” reflected Carangelo, a four-year starter. “It is kind of crazy how fast it (four years) has gone by. Obviously, the past (two) years we haven’t been in the finals, so this year, it was great to be back here.”

Pearson has a personal connection to the 2021 title team. After the Rams won the SCC crown that year, her older sister and Cheshire’s senior pitcher Bri Pearson received the inaugural “Dani Kemp” Most Outstanding Player award.

A former softball player at Foran in Milford, Kemp passed away from a brain tumor in 2017.

This year, Ava Pearson was awarded the same memorial honor as her sister. She was chosen as the SCC MOP after posting a two-run home run and a bunt single on Thursday.

“My sister is my biggest role model, so it feels great to be able to follow in her footsteps,” said Pearson, whose sister Bri attended the final on Thursday.

Pearson contributed to a balanced offense against NH. Carangelo had three hits in the title game, while sophomore Jordan McCue and junior Bailey Vitanza joined Pearson with two each.

“If you think about from top to bottom or left to right, one to nine, or one to 10, every girl hit the ball on the nose today,” stated Drust. “It was just a matter of time before it all came together.”

After being announced as the SCC Player of the Year on Thursday, sophomore Jenica Matos pitched a three-hitter with 10 strikeouts and six walks.

“I felt really good,” reflected Matos. “I felt great in the last inning like I really had to push through and be there for my team because I knew they had my back, so I had to lock it down.”

The teams threatened in the first two innings. NH junior Alyssa DiGiovanna started the game with a single, but Matos caught a line drive off the bat of junior Alyssa Ferriouolo and threw to first base for a double play.

Matos ended the frame with her first strikeout.

In the bottom of the first, McCue and Carangelo both singled, however, NH senior pitcher Reece Hebert also finished the inning with a strikeout.

In the second, the Nighthawks used a walk, a double, and a single to load the bases, yet, Matos struck out the side to strand the runners.

“It was just all about outs,” stated Drust. “Jenica is so fire on the mound that I just really trust that she is in control out there and she really is.”

The Nighthawks returned to strike first in the top of the third inning. DiGiovanna started the frame with a walk. When Ferrioulo put down a sacrifice bunt, a throwing error allowed DiGiovanna to sprint around the bases and score the first run.

Matos used two strikeouts and a ground out to end the inning and then the Rams offense responded in the bottom of the third. With two outs, junior Tai Byrd reached on a single and advanced to second base on a passed ball.

With her teammate in scoring position, Carangelo came through with an RBI single to left field. Byrd slid safely under the tag of NH senior catcher Isabella Blanchard.

“I just knew that when I saw Tai get on (base), I had a job to do and I need to deliver at that point,” recalled Carangelo. “It felt really good getting the hit, but I just knew the job that I needed to do.”

After Matos worked around a pair of walks in the top of the fourth, Cheshire broke open the game with four runs in the bottom half. Vitanza drew a leadoff single and when sophomore Lyla Blair put down her second sacrifice bunt, a throwing error allowed her to reach first base safely.

Hebert picked up a ground out and a strikeout, but CHS mounted another two-out rally. McCue hit a foul ball behind home plate, but when the Nighthawks were unable to make the catch, the Cheshire second baseman capitalized on having another swing.

McCue smacked the next pitch into the right center gap and the ball rolled all the way to the fence. The double allowed Vitanza and junior pinch runner Julia Miller to score and snap the 1-1 tie.

“I knew I had to capitalize on their mistake because they (the Nighthawks) are such a good team, so you don’t know when you are going to get your opportunity,” explained McCue.

Following McCue’s clutch hit, Pearson delivered with a two-run homer to right field. The blast propelled the Rams to a 5-1 advantage.

“Jordan definitely brought the momentum up, scoring two runs. I was so excited for her. I just got in the box with the same energy and it worked out my way,” explained Pearson. “It’s my first home run over the fence. It felt great knowing that I could do that for my team.”

Pearson is leading the Rams in batting average this spring.

“It is not easy being a slapper. It is an art,” added Drust. “She (Pearson) is a triple threat. She can hit away, she can power slap, she can soft slap, she can bunt. It is really difficult to defend against her. She has really been fire for us this year. Her work ethic is unmatched. Being a slapper, you have got to put the time in all the time and she really does.”

On Thursday, CHS extended their lead with two runs in the fifth. To lead off the inning, Carangelo singled for the third time and junior catcher Erin Hersh earned Cheshire’s first walk.

Carangelo ended up scoring on an RBI single by Blair. NH tried to get an out at third base, but on a throwing error, Hersh was able to score the last run for the Rams.

The Nighthawks ended Cheshire’s seven-run surge in the sixth, as freshman Chloe Belcher drew a walk and came around to score on an RBI ground out by senior Avery Berney.

CHS came back to secure the game’s first one, two, three inning in the top of the seventh. On a pop up off the bat of NH junior Alexandra Anquillare, McCue caught the final out and the Rams stormed the infield to celebrate the victory.

“It feels like a relief,” reflected Matos, of getting the crown. “This is what we’ve been working for all year, but we are still not done. We still have states to go to.”

Matos didn’t yield a hit in the final five innings.

“Jenica is a genius on that mound,” said Drust. “She knew what she could and she couldn’t do after the second inning and then she rolled with that the rest of the game. (She) allowed them to put the ball in play a little bit to trust her defense and find the strike zone again. I just think the team came together today.”

Before the title game, Matos, Byrd, Carangelo, and Pearson were recognized as members of the All-SCC First Team. Hersh was a second-team honoree.

The Rams are now focusing on trying to claim their first Class LL title since 2016. As the top seed, Cheshire will receive a bye in the first round.

On May 29, CHS will host the winner of Norwich Free Academy (16th seed, 14-8) and New Canaan (17th seed, 12-8).

“Our momentum is high, our energy is high, and our love for each other is always there, so I’m looking forward to it and I know we’ll go far,” stated Pearson.

CHS softball celebrates after the final out of the SCC title game.

On Thursday, Jordan McCue snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run double in the fourth inning.

In the third inning, Karla Carangelo hit an RBI single to score Tai Byrd and tie the SCC final at 1-1.

Pitcher Jenica Matos reacts after getting one of her 10 strikeouts against North Haven.

Cheshire softball players sprint to congratulate teammate Ava Pearson after she received "Dani Kemp" Most Outstanding Player for the SCC Tournament.

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