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  • Greg Lederer

Cheshire Softball Shuts Out Rival Under The Lights At UConn

On Friday, Cheshire softball hosted Sheehan at UConn's Burrill Family Field. Photo by Greg Lederer.

Jenica Matos fired 11 strikeouts in her third no-hitter of the season.

by Greg Lederer

Cheshire Sports Media

Cheshire High School softball got to host rival Sheehan on Friday night, but this wasn’t a traditional home game for the players and coaches. Leading up to the 2024 season, the Rams worked with the University of Connecticut to have the opportunity to play a contest at Burrill Family Field in Storrs.

“You know one of the things that, as a coaching staff, we want to do is just keep preparing them (the girls) for big stages and keep preparing them for going to college and playing in front of a lot of people in nice stadiums,” explained Head Coach Kristine Drust. “We’re super lucky to have relationships with the UConn staff and this awesome university, so you know just getting them out here just helps prepare them for their future.”

In warming up on Friday, CHS players enjoyed getting to take in the sights and sounds of a Division I college facility.

“It felt really good,” stated sophomore pitcher Jenica Matos. “It’s (UConn) definitely one of my top schools, so it is awesome to get to play on the field and get a feel for the place.”

Sophomore Ava Pearson was also excited for the game.

“It has always been a dream of mine to play here, so just knowing that take all pressure aside, we just do our thing,” said Pearson.

For their fans who made trip to UConn, the Rams (16-1) put on a show in posting a 12-0 shutout of Sheehan (13-6). Due to the mercy rule, the game was called in the fifth inning.  

The game represented Cheshire’s 12th straight victory since taking their only loss, 10-6, to top-ranked Masuk (17-0) on April 13.

“There is definitely a lot of pressure on us, but we take that pressure and use it as motivation and energy. As long as we keep winning, we keep having fun,” stated senior center fielder Karla Carangelo.

On Friday, Cheshire racked up 14 hits, with Carangelo and Pearson picking up three each. Juniors Tai Byrd and Erin Hersh and sophomore Molly Fleming all had two hits.

“I felt good,” reflected Pearson. “I’ve been working on a few things, so it felt good to put them up there. Everybody did their part and it worked out.”

Matos pitched her third no-hitter of the season. She fired 11 strikeouts, yielding just three walks and a hit by pitch.

“I feel good like feel like I was hitting my spots really well and (catcher) Erin (Hersh) was doing her job back there, too. We just worked really hard to get here,” explained Matos.

“She is amazing,” added Carangelo, of Matos. “She has so much confidence in herself and we have so much confidence in her.”

CHS and Sheehan threatened early at the plate. In the first inning, Pearson doubled to left center, but Titans senior pitcher Trinity LaValley used a strikeout and a fly out to strand her.

In the second, Fleming (single) and sophomore Lyla Blair (hit by pitch) reached with two outs, however, the Titans used a ground out to get out of the inning.

During the third, Sheehan sophomore Haley LaValley (hit by pitch) and senior Reilly Hunter (walk) both got on base with one out, but Matos picked up two strikeouts to end the frame.

The Rams finally broke through for four runs in the bottom of the third. Cheshire used aggressiveness on the bases and capitalized on three errors.

With one out, Pearson singled to left. Soon after, she stole second base and when the throw went into center field, Pearson sprinted into third.

Byrd put down a bunt and when the Titans tried to throw out Pearson, the ball sailed over home plate and Cheshire jumped ahead 1-0.

“Ava (Pearson) is setting the table and something that we don’t talk about often, (but) our base running has just been on fire and our execution of our short game of our squeeze to get on the board (tonight),” said Drust. “The girls aren’t just playing well, but they are hands-down dynamically the best team we’ve seen here as a team. They are a real team.” 

Carangelo extended the third inning with a single. Next, Hersh reached on an error and Byrd came around to score the second run.

Junior Bailey Vitanza (ground out) and Fleming (infield single) drove in the last two runs of the third.

When the Rams start getting hits and scoring runs, Carangelo feels that their energy is contagious.

“As soon as Tai got that bunt down and Ava scored, it was from then on out, we took all of energy from them,” said Carangelo. “As soon as we get going, we are kind of unstoppable.”

The Titans tried to rally in the fourth. Juniors Brooklyn Stanley (walk) and DeLana Leonard (throwing error) reached to lead off the inning and they advanced on a sacrifice bunt.

However like in the third, Matos finished the frame with consecutive strikeouts.

Matos posted eight strikeouts through four innings.

“She is just easy to coach, easy to communicate (with),” stated Drust. “Her preparation isn’t matched. She wants it and she loves it and you can see her emotion on the mound, right, when she strikes somebody out. It’s everything she wants and she doesn’t just want to do it for her, she wants to do it for the team and she wants to do it for everybody, and all of the families that are watching. She puts a lot on herself out there, but she deserves it. She deserves to have this moment and I’m really proud of her.”

In the bottom of the fourth, the Rams used a two-out rally to score three times and break open the game. Pearson, Byrd, and Carangelo (RBI) hit consecutive singles for a 5-0 lead.

Hersh followed with a line drive to center field and a fielding error allowed her to round first base and sprint to second. Byrd and Carangelo scored on the play.

Vitanza also drew a walk during the fourth.

Drust feels that her players love seeing each other have success on the field.

“That is sports, right? Everything is so mental that when you see your teammates do well, it makes you looser, it makes you happier, it takes some pressure off and you do well, too,” said Drust. “We talk a lot about that as a coaching staff to the girls and you know success is contagious within teams.”

On Friday, Matos struck out the side in the fifth and then the Rams capped the scoring with five runs in the bottom half. To lead off the frame, Blair doubled to right center and junior Julia Miller drew a walk.

Blair came around to score on an RBI double by sophomore Jordan McCue. Pearson drove in Miller with a ground out.

Byrd (single) and Carangelo (double) followed with RBI hits. In coming in to run for Byrd, sophomore Addison Coffey scored the 11th run.

To clinch the win, Hersh smacked a double off the wall in left field and Carangelo came in to score.

Hersh caught Matos for all five innings, while Sheehan sophomore catcher Julia Cassesse worked with Trinity and Haley LaValley in the circle.

On Monday, the Rams travel to Hamden to face Sacred Heart Academy (3-14) at 4:15 p.m. Back on April 19, Cheshire won 9-0 in the first meeting.

CHS is currently the top seed in the Class LL rankings.

“I think there are still some things that we are still working through and we want to see, but listen, we are having a lot of fun together,” stated Drust. “Fun and happy were our words this year. You see the girls are pretty happy and they are having a ton of fun and I think you put those two things together with the team dynamic and their skills are taking care of the work.”

Ava Pearson doubled in her first at bat on Friday.

Karla Carangelo joined teammate Ava Pearson with three hits against Sheehan.

Softball catcher Erin Hersh ended Friday's game with an RBI double to left center.

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