(Kat Lagace pitched a complete game, striking out nine)
Facing a full count with two outs in the top of the 7th inning, Newington head coach Steve Markie called for time and approached the mound to give his pitcher a pep talk.
“Where’d those pitches miss,“ Markie jokingly asked his all-state ace Kat Lagace, “She kind of laughed and said I don’t know, so I said okay you’re going to throw a changeup and get the last out.”
Markie’s advice worked as Lagace’s next pitch was lined out to center, preserving a 6-1 victory over the visiting Eagles from Enfield in the first-round of the Class LL tournament last Monday night.
The Indians entered the postseason having lost three of their final four regular season games, but the coach wasn’t concerned about a tourney letdown.
“We had a good scrimmage the other day against Rockville that gave us some confidence back, because they have an all-state pitcher themselves and we hit the ball fairly well that game. I thought we gained a little confidence in the scrimmage,” recalled Markie, “We were very sharp today and we came out and did what we were supposed to do. We got a couple of timely hits early on, scored two runs in the first and two in the second and Kat pitched very, very well today.”
Lagace was laser-focused on the afternoon, striking out nine and allowing only four hits. It was a pitching performance that Markie and his team have become accustomed to over the past two seasons.
“Today she used all of her pitches and she was pretty efficient with what pitches she threw. She kept them off balance the whole game and that’s all we ask for,” stated Markie, who added that Lagace has taken her game to a new level this spring, “She’s smarter, she understands that it’s not always about striking people out and it’s about being efficient. Getting outs is getting outs, it doesn’t matter how you do it.”
The senior hurler has started every game over the past two seasons and found an added sense of comfort on the hill this spring, winning 15 of her 20 starts, including seven shutouts.
“This year I feel that I have a lot more confidence in myself,” said Lagace, who won 14 of her 22 starts a season ago, “Last year whenever something bad would happened I would kind of get down on myself, but this year I’m obviously a year older and I feel a lot more confident and I know I have a great team to back me up.”
Part of her confidence stems from the relationship she has with the team’s catcher, Kinsey DelBuono.
“On the field and off the field she’s one of my best friends and we have that connection where she knows what I want to throw and I know what she’s thinking,” Lagace said of the close bond, “We’ve been on the same wavelength in every game and in practice.”
Markie believes that a strong connection between a pitcher and catcher is invaluable.
“I’ve been lucky in many of my years our pitchers and catchers have been really good friends and hang out outside of softball. It just helps,” stated Markie, who just wrapped up his 18th season in Newington’s dugout, “When Kinsey decided that she was going to start to catch, she went with Kat to all of her pitching lessons and learned how she wanted to set up batters. Having that bond is super huge and when they get into the game they know each other so well. Kinsey is the type of kid that will call timeout when she sees that something is going on and she’ll get everyone together and get everyone refocused. She does that without me having to go out there and do it. For a high school senior to be able to do that is huge and she’s come a long, long way in the four years that she’s been here.”
The pitcher-catcher combo makes up half of the seniors on Markie’s roster this season. Kacey Blais and Lindsey Mangiafico are the other two.
Blais finished the season with 24 hits, 20 runs, and 13 RBIs and Mangiafico registered 16 runs and drove in six on 18 hits.
“Kacey has done a great job at playing second and batting second for us. She’s hit really, really well,” said Markie, who praised the quartet of seniors for their leadership, “They’re not the most vocal group of kids, but they do the things that we need to do to get it done. They keep it positive, they keep people going and doing the right things. We have good leadership from those kids. They do a lot of the little things that probably go unnoticed by a lot of other people, but as coaches we definitely see it.”
The next day following the victory over Enfield, the seniors played their final game in Newington blue and gold, losing 9-0 at Stamford in the second round of the tourney. The team went down swinging, but could only manage three hits in the loss. One of those hits was from Lagace, who also thrived at the plate this season, finishing with a team-high 23 RBIs.
The seniors left their stamp on the program, winning 30 of 44 games over the past two seasons, including a 12-game winning streak earlier this year. The team also won a tournament games in each of those seasons, shutting out Ridgefield 7-0 in the first round of the 2016 Class LL tournament.
There will no doubt be a void in 2018, but Markie will also have a solid core returning to the diamond next season, led by now-sophomores Cyan Gonzalez and Rachel Thureson.
Gonzalez earned all-state honors and was the team’s most reliable hitter this spring, hitting .539 and connecting on a team-high in hits (41) and scoring a team-high in runs (38), including two homeruns. She cemented the tourney win over Enfield in the 4th inning when she cranked a single, driving in Mangiafico and Yasmin Rincon for two of her three RBIs on the day.
Both Lagace and Markie are amazed by the maturity of Gonzalez.
“She’s a great player. I honestly look up to her, even though she’s younger than me. When she gets up to bat I have so much confidence in her,” said Lagace, “She just makes me so happy because I wish I was that good and I had that much confidence when I was that age. She’s such a good player and I know that she’ll do great things in the future.”
“She just knows how to play the game. She’s very smart and she understands the game very well. There are things that she brings to the game that we can’t take credit for as coaches,” added Markie, “She makes plays and oozes confidence and that rubs off on the other kids around her. Nothing rattles her and she goes out and does her thing and the other kids feed off of it.”
Thureson hit her first career homerun in the tourney win, connecting on a two-run blast in the first inning. She finished her sophomore campaign with 31 hits, 26 runs, and 15 RBIs.
“We knew last year that she was a really special player and I think people around here are going to see that she’s going to be a force for the next couple of years,” Markie said of his Thureson, who plays first base.
Come next spring the veteran coach’s toughest task will be replacing the rocket right arm of Lagace, who is off to play at Sage College in Albany, NY. Freshman Dani Pantano saw some action on the mound this spring and should be ready to assume the fulltime duties when next year rolls around.
Wethersfield Hardball Wraps Up Terrific Season
Eagles’ baseball won 15 of 20 regular season games, which included a late-season 9-3 victory at Rocky Hill. Junior Jimmy Sullivan was a monster from the plate, driving in seven runs while going 4-4 on jacking a homerun. Tim Blaisdell chipped in with a pair of doubles and pitcher Kyle Bukowski went the whole way, allowing four hits and striking out six.
The day after defeating their crosstown rival, the Eagles came from behind to beat Glastonbury 3-2. The team trailed 2-0 heading into the bottom of the 7th, but Michael Santiago had a walk-off single which drove in a pair to complete the rally.
The strong regular season earned Wethersfield a spot in the Class L tourney. Blaisdell took the mound and had a spectacular pitching performance in the first-round, throwing a complete game shutout and fanning 10 batters in the Eagles 4-0 victory over Woodstock.
The team’s season ended in the second-round, losing to Watertown 2-1 in extra innings. It was the final game for ten seniors, including Santiago. The Eagles will have Sullivan, Blaisdell, and Bukowski heading a strong senior class returning next spring.
(Wethersfield's Tim Blaisdell)
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Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin