By John Goralski
Davina Hernandez’ voice cracked and sputtered as she greeted reporters on the mound at the end of her first week. The big smile was from a pair of lopsided victories. The broken voice was from her untiring work on the sidelines.
The Lady Knight softball team exploded into the spring with double-digit wins over Wethersfield and Bristol Eastern. Batters combined for 30 hits in two games. The defense kept runners out of scoring position in all but three innings.
“This is the best part of my day,” Hernandez said with a wide smile. “I love the kids, and they’ve really bought into this. I nag on them the whole day about the little things. I tell them at practice that they are going to hate my voice by the end of the season, but they are getting better and better every day.”
The buzz has already started. Can this be the year that the Knights capture their first back-to-back titles since 1987-88? Hernandez isn’t ready to look that far ahead. In many ways, the Lady Knights are still getting ready for the spring. They’ve yet to have a practice outdoors except for scrimmages and games, so Hernandez is cautiously optimistic.
“Every single reporter has asked me if I think we can get back to the state championship,” she said. “Of course we could, but anything can happen on any given day. It’s not always the person that thinks she should be there that gets there. We’ve seen it so many times. When there’s a lot of attention around a team, it could be a negative thing. I’m stressing one game at a time, and that’s all I’m looking for as a coach.”
She points to the slow start against Wethersfield in the season opener. Southington capitalized on two errors to take a 2-0 lead in the first inning, but Wethersfield trimmed the deficit to one run by the third inning. It took a trio of three-run innings down the stretch to secure the 11-1 victory.
“That first game, when it was 2-1 in the first innings, I thought ‘Oh, man. Here we go,’ but there’s no doubt in my mind that these girls are going to push through it,” said the coach. “We have a long way to go. I tell them every single day not to look back. We’re going to keep looking forward, but we’re only looking forward one game.”
When Southington bats finally came around, Wethersfield never knew what hit them. Kaitlin Paterson (3-for-4, 3 runs) and Sydney Ferrante (3-for-5) scored homeruns. Lauren Zazzaro (2-for-5) hit a triple. Paterson, Rachel Dube, and Kendra Friedt (3-for-4) collected doubles.
Southington batters combined for 15 hits, but it was the defense that secured the victory. Friedt allowed just two hits and struck out 14 batters to get the win. Wethersfield committed four errors, but the Knights fielded perfectly in their opening contest.
“We stuck with it and didn’t get frustrated,” said the coach. “It took us a little while to get going, but that’s something that I’ve been stressing to them all year. I want them to keep swinging the bat, and I want them to continue to get better each inning. I believe that they have.”
The slow start carried into the second game, too, as the Knights capitalized on a first inning error to take a 1-0 lead. Southington had baserunners in every inning, but opened up the game with a seven run surge in the fourth inning to cruise past Bristol Eastern, 16-1.
Caroline Burke went 4-for-4. Paterson (3 runs) and Ferrante (5 RBI) had three hits apiece. Dube had a pair of doubles, and Zazzaro had multiple hits. Southington batters combined for 19 hits, and the defense rallied for another mistake-free effort.
Friedt struck out six in six innings for her second two-hitter of the year.
“She throws hard. A lot of kids that throw hard their pitches don’t move much, but her pitches move,” Hernandez said. “She’s worked so hard on her control and having tighter spins. Without a doubt, she’s come back as a totally different pitcher.”
Now, Hernandez is looking to build momentum this week with a home game against Rockville, the conference opener against Conard, and a rematch at Bristol Eastern on Friday.
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By John Goralski