(Rachel Roncaioli pitched a complete game)
Not a driving rain or the premiere of The Bachelorette could prevent Rocky Hill and Wethersfield from playing their annual softball game last Monday night.
On a wet and chilly evening, the Terriers held off the upstart Eagles 15-9 at Elm Ridge Park in Rocky Hill.
“It feels great. Even if it was our last game, it was a great way to close out our season,” said Rocky Hill senior Riley Pickett, “It was very special to have this moment with these girls on the field that I started it all on.”
The season finale victory was the seventh win for the Terriers, who finished a game shy of qualifying for the postseason.
Pickett saved one of her best performances for last, going 3-3 and scoring three runs. The shortstop reached base on all five of her plate appearances and also stole six bases.
It was the final game for the soon-to-be graduate, who is off play collegiately at Lesley University in Massachusetts. She followed up an all-conference selection in 2016 with another spectacular season, earning all-state honors despite the team navigating through a brutal schedule this spring.
“We remained positive and we went into every game with the same attitude. We knew that there were teams with better records and they’ve beaten other teams that we’ve lost to, but we’re just going to go out there and play our hardest because we’re a good team and we know how well we can play,” added Pickett, “We stuck together and we maintained that positive attitude no matter what.”
Pickett, along with Erin Kelly, are the only two seniors that head coach Tyler Catlin had on his roster and both left a lasting impression on the second-year skipper.
“I’ve coached both baseball and softball and I’ve never seen a kid cares as much as Riley Pickett. She cares so much about the team’s success and her own personal success on the field,” reflected Catlin, “Erin is a gritty ball player that is willing to do whatever to help the team. She was always willing and ready. They were wonderful leaders and I’m going to miss those two.”
Trailing 3-0 in the first inning, Kelly helped the home team get on the scoreboard with a single, driving in leadoff hitter Sophie Kurdziel who had tripled.
The offense never looked back from that point on and, after a shaky first inning, pitcher Rachel Roncaioli settled in and threw a complete game.
She also helped her own cause in the fourth inning when she smacked a single, driving home Melanie Tejada and Megan Khanna, extending the lead to 12-4.
“I would call her an unsung hero. She really stepped up and pitched some big games and she can really zip the ball in there,” Catlin said of his junior hurler, “I hope that during the offseason she continues to work on some of her off-speed pitches because she can be really effective next year. She showed some serious promise throughout the year.”
Catcher Maddi Santo will also be returning next spring. Santo made the defensive play of the night in the third inning when she gunned down
Wethersfield’s Madeline Johnson, who was attempting to steal second base. The out ended the inning and left a runner stranded at third.
“She’s night and day better than she was last year and even at the beginning of the season,” Catlin said of Santo, “She had a lot of difficulty blocking the ball last year, but her work with our assistant coach Erin Weber didn’t not go unnoticed. She’s blocking the ball, she’s being aggressive and she knows where she’s going with the ball. I look forward to seeing how much more she can develop throughout the summer and into next season.”
The tandem of Roncaioli and Santo will head a large group of nine juniors returning to the diamond in 2018.
The season may have ended without a tourney berth, but postseason or not, the philosophy in the dugout remained the same.
“I don’t think these girls knew how great their potential could be, so we had difficulties sometimes. We did show a little confidence and they displayed some skills and they were able to produce for us. I’m looking forward to seeing how that translates into next season when we return quite a few starters,” stated Catlin, who celebrated with his team before jetting off to watch his favorite reality show, The Bachelorette, “I think we have a climate around here. The captains did a great job at establishing this climate where the kids want to come and have fun. They want to practice hard and play hard and that’s what I’m trying to push too. No matter what happens we have to be able to turn the page and that’s the mindset that I’m trying to instill on our young team.”
Wethersfield Softball Makes the Dance
The Wethersfield softball team may have lost to their rivals last Monday night, but the youthful team finished the regular season on the highest of notes, winning back-to-back games against Hall last Tuesday and Wednesday night to finish the season 8-12 and reach the tournament for the first time in four years.
“We’re seeing more confident at-bats as the season has went along and that’s a good thing,” head coach Colleen Budaj said following the Rocky Hill game, “It gives us a lot to build on.”
The game against Rocky Hill was a bit of a microcosm of their season. They trailed 15-6 and were down to their final out in the seventh inning, but managed to churn out three more runs before all was said and done.
Senior Emily Swanson crossed the plate and then Joyce Santos drove in Jillian Gray and Maya Mulholland before the final out.
“No matter what the situation is, we don’t want the kids to give up on themselves or each other. We’ve been preaching all year that we are this family and you don’t let your family down,” added Budaj, “If you make a mistake, no problem you’ve got the next one. We never give up no matter what the situation is. I don’t care if we’ve given up 15 runs, you never give up on yourself or each other. I think we’ll see the benefits of that in the future.”
Swanson, Santos, and Olivia McGrath are the three seniors that have steadied the ship, along with junior captain Emma Zaleski. The four have all played well in the field and helped groom the next generation at Wethersfield.
Swanson pitched both games against Hall and Zaleski was instrumental from the plate in the two victories, blasting four hits and scoring five runs in a 20-4 win at Hall last Tuesday. The next night, she tripled, which drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the 4th inning and then drove in an insurance run in her next at-bat during a 9-4 victory at Mill Woods Park.
“They have a calming presence on the field. We are a young team and we make mistakes, but they help those younger kids step away from the mistake and make the next play. Without that calming presence and that belief in each other we wouldn’t be able to do that,” a proud Budaj said, “It’s hard when you make a couple of mistake in the game. Usually the team that makes the least mistakse is going to win and so those seniors help limit those mistakes. They have game IQ and they know the game very well. They’re constantly talking and constantly teaching. It’s a teaching game and they are doing a lot of teaching in the moment, which is huge and invaluable for the younger kids.”
Budaj are her captains are working with a talented group of up-and-comers, including four starting freshmen.
“My three captains have done a stellar job of taking the kids under their wing. It’s tough jumping up from the level they’ve played at to the varsity level. However I think the experience that these four freshmen have gained will make a difference in the future,” stated Budaj, “They’re learning to play at this level. It’s rare that you start four freshmen at the varsity level, but I think they are coming along.”
The freshmen include Gray, who has become a reliable hitter and has played shortstop. Kaitlyn Fischer got the start on the mound against Rocky Hill and Zoe Kleeblatt is starting behind the dish.
Gray and Kleeblatt each scored three runs in Tuesday’s triumph of Hall.
“She’s not a catcher by trade, she’s a shortstop,” Budaj said of Kleeblatt, “I told all the freshmen this year that I had an opening and she jumped at it to help the team. She’s an excellent shortstop, but she stepped outside her comfort zone because we needed it and I respect that a lot.”
All told the team won three of their final five games to reach the Class LL tournament and a first-round date with Middletown. The Eagles received a boost late in the season from Budaj’s daughter and 2016 graduate, Summer, who is helping the team during her break from college. In between innings against Rocky Hill, the former all-conference catcher was working with Fischer and has added another veteran voice in the dugout.
2017 has produced a postseason appearance. There’s no telling what the Eagles have in store for 2018.
Leave a Reply.
Sports Editor for the Rare Reminder, Glastonbury Citizen, and Rivereast News Bulletin