WHS softball captains (l-r) Molly Bowers, Erica Christie, Claire Sipes, Mackenzi Banet following win over Rocky Hill
Elm Ridge Park has been a house of horrors for Wethersfield softball in recent seasons.
Since 2014, the Eagles had lost five straight games at the Rocky Hill-based park, which included a pair of comeback victories by the Terriers in the last two contests.
The program exorcised those demons last Monday night, defeating Rocky Hill 6-3 in another competitive games between the rival schools.
“We came into this game and we knew we wanted it really bad,” said senior Erica Christie, who had a pair of hits, “We’ve been practicing really hard, and we wanted to do it for our coaches. We just really wanted this game.”
Rocky Hill head coach Tyler Catlin credited the Eagles following the loss, “Hats off to Wethersfield. They played a great game.”
Junior pitcher Mackenzi Banet pitched seven solid innings, striking out seven and working her way out of jams in the fourth and seventh innings.
Banet put an exclamation point on the game by striking out Maddie Dillon with the bases loaded in the seventh.
“For sure I was really nervous,” a laughing Banet said of the seventh inning scenario, “I try and stay calm because it makes it worse if you don’t. I just try and focus on what’s important.”
Head coach Colleen Budaj commended her starting pitcher’s composure, “She’s well-trained and carries a lot of poise. One of the things her pitching coach tells her is to not overthink and to trust your training. She got some reps for us her freshman year and now she been our pitcher this year and we left her in for the duration of most games because we have that trust in her.”
Behind Banet is a supporting cast in the field that is working in perfect harmony.
“Communication is something that we’ve really stressed,” added Budaj, who has only two seniors, “We’ve never coached the freshmen and sophomores, so we’ve really stressed that communication this season.”
Christie, who is captaining the outfield, added, “I feel like we’re all really close friends at practice and out on the field so that helps us communicate and be able to make those plays.”
WHS drew first blood, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning on a sacrifice bunt from Kyla Brogan, which sent home Gabriella Tomaino. Banet crossed home plate later in the inning following a Rocky Hill error.
Claire Sipes scored in the third, extending the lead to 3-0.
Rocky Hill started the fourth inning with four straight hits, including back-to-back doubles courtesy of Nicole Desroches and Christina DeNovellis. Dillon then singled, sending DeNovellis home to narrow the gap to 3-2.
With no outs in the inning, the Eagles infield stepped up and forced a pair of ground outs, including a great scoop-and-laser to first by freshman shortstop Alyssa Pericello. Banet ended the inning by striking out Jasmine Edmunds.
Christie, Sipes, and Tomaino each scored in the top of the seventh, extending the lead to 6-2.
Rocky Hill, which had come-from-behind home wins vs Wethersfield in 2018 and 2019, cut the lead in half when Erin Slavin doubled, sending home a run. Desroches and DeNovellis each walked, setting up base loaded with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.
“We just kept our composure and trusted our skills,” senior captain Molly Bowers said of the crucial sequence.
Following Banet’s game-winning strikeout, the team breathed a sign of relief knowing that they had officially thwarted a Rocky Hill rally.
“We knew they needed a hit and we had to make a play. We knew we could,” said Sipes, who is the team’s starting catcher, “This was our game and we’ve been waiting for this game for a while.”
The win the was fifth in six games for a team that is keeping it simple following a lost year due to COVID.
Budaj said her and assistant coach/husband, Steve Budaj, have stressed two areas this spring, “Putting the ball in play and making the routine plays. We’ve tried to keep it as simple as we can coming into each game and we hit a bump in the road in our last game vs RHAM and what I’m so impressed by today is how they rebounded from that. The loss pointed out some things we had to fix and to come off a loss shows the growth that we are making.”
The girls are following the coach staff’s lead.
“With the year off it was definitely hard, but we all get along really well,” added Bowers, “All the girls are really sweet, and we all have our strengths. I think we all practiced and grew individually, and I think we just have a really good chemistry as a team,”
“We’re just friends top to bottom. It’s been exciting,” added Sipes.
WHS ended the week with blowout victories over Bloomfield (18-0) and Hartford Public (22-1), improving to 7-1.
On the other side of the diamond, it been an up and down season for the Terriers, who dropped to 2-3 following the loss. The team was limited by an injury to starting catcher Lauren Colasacco, who was unable to start behind the plate against Wethersfield, which made communication difficult at times.
Despite the hurdles, Catlin believes the pieces are in place and it’s just a matter of consistency for a team that lost 10-2 to Berlin at Elm Ridge on April 19 before coming back four days later and beating the Redcoats of Berlin, one of the top teams in the state, 11-6.
“It’s a good enough team to make run. Our heads got big after that Berlin game and I think we just didn’t perform tonight,” stated Catlin, who has sophomore Shauna Kehoe starting on the mound, “Shauna is one of the kids that plays year around and absolutely loves this game.”
Kehoe leads a talented sophomore class, which features DeNovellis and Emma Simons, who made several plays in the field against Wethersfield, including a double play when she snagged a ground ball and tagged a runner before firing the ball over to first.
“She made five or so plays against Berlin and made another five or six plays tonight,” Catlin said of Simons, “She’s been a defensive stalwart for us and she’s going to be a nice fixture for the team.”
The Terriers finished the week with an 18-0 victory over Hartford Public and an 8-4 loss to Windsor.
Catlin believes the team is still in the hunt, “I look at our schedule and I look at our team, and I think we can win every game when we step on the field. I think if our kids show up and take care of what they can take care of, I have high hopes for us. I think we can make a little run at the Class M’s.”
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin