By John Goralski
Kendra Friedt picked apart Cheshire’s lineup with the accuracy of a military sniper. She scored two strikeouts in the first inning. She scored two in her final inning on the mound. Every inning in between, at least one Ram batter swung and missed at a third strike. In the second inning, she struck out the side.
Southington advanced to the semifinals for the third season in a row with wins over Newtown and Cheshire, but it took a 2-1 pitcher’s duel in the quarterfinals to dispel any doubts about Southington’s ace. Sure the Rams caught up with three of Friedt’s pitches and even manufactured an unearned run, but two of the hits were followed with strikeouts as the Lady Knight ace quieted any critics remaining.
“That’s the kind of question that teams have had in the back of their minds,” said Lady Knight softball coach Davina Hernandez. “Has Southing-ton played anyone? Kendra’s not going to get seven or eight strikeouts against a good team, but she did. She did it with a lot of fire behind her ball today.”
The Knights were never threatened in their first contest, as they dismantled Newtown, 13-0. Southing-ton rallied for three runs in each of the first two innings and scored in every inning but two. The Knights added two runs in the fourth inning and four runs in the sixth as Southington batters combined for 10 hits and seven walks.
For Hernandez, it was an opportunity to see how her entire lineup would handle the postseason pressure as she shuffled 17 players into the game.
“I’m really happy that we came out and scored some runs early on because I’m still looking for that pinch hitter that we’ll need in a clutch situation,” she said. “Right now, I’m torn between quite a few of them. It was good to have so many kids get up to bat. All 17 girls played today, and that made it fun.”
In the circle Friedt did her part, scattering six strikeouts and four hits over seven innings to record her 14th shutout of the season. Even though Newtown managed to get runners into scoring position in every inning but one, Southington’s defense ended every threat.
Hernandez used the postseason opportunity to add another pitch to Friedt’s arsenal.
“Two of the hits that she gave up were on change-ups, but that’s all part of the plan. We knew that they were going to put the bat on the ball, but we know that we have to work that pitch,” she said. “You don’t throw it when teams are behind the ball. Now that we’re facing teams that can be ahead of her, we have to try it. She gave up a couple of hits early, but then it was really effective the rest of the game. She got every other kid to ground out with a choppy ball.”
Offensively, the Knights relied on power and timely hitting. Natalie Wadolowski went 3-for-4 with a triple, two doubles, a run, and six RBI. Sydney Ferrante went 2-for-3 with a triple, a double, three runs, and two RBI. Lauren Zazzaro scored four times. Kaitlin Paterson scored twice, and Southington reached base with every part of their lineup.
“Natalie had a fantastic day today. She was on the ball, and there was no doubt that she was going to hit it from her first swing, and that was huge,” said Hernandez. “I was happy that Natalie came out with a bang. Sydney hit the fence in the air. Kaitlin drove the ball, and Lauren had a great day.”
With the victory Southington advanced to face Cheshire, but momentum slowed as the Knights tried to figure out the Ram pitching. Nobody scored multiple hits in the contest, but Southington manufactured two runs on six hits to score a 2-1 win.
“They are a phenomenal team, and we knew that this was going to be a hard game for us,” Hernandez said. “They have great hitters one through nine. They made the plays. It was the type of tournament game that you want to coach and play in. It was competitive, fun, exciting, energetic, and loud. Both teams manufactured a run, but we came through with the clutch hit.”
Haley Arduini gave the Knights the early lead with a single in the second inning to open the scoring, but Cheshire responded in the fourth, capitalizing on a rare Southington throwing error to tie the game, 1-1.
“I told them to answer back, but that’s what I’ve said to them and what they’ve done every single time a team has scored a run on us this year,” said Hernandez. “They put runners on base. We put runners on base. Their pitcher had a good inning. Our pitcher had a good inning. It was a back-and-forth battle between two great teams. Either one of us could have scored. It just happened to be us.”
The winning run came in the bottom of the fifth. Paterson reached on a one-out single. Zazzaro moved her to second with a sacrifice, and Ferrante drew a walk with two outs. Rachel Dube lined a single through the gap to score Paterson, and the Knights held on for the victory.
With the win, Southington (22-0) advanced to the semifinals to face No. 5 Daniel Hand (19-4). Hand is coming off an 8-7 win over Bristol Central in the quarterfinals. If they win, Southington will earn a chance to score their first back-to-back state title since winning five in a row from 1983-1988.
No. 7 Amity (19-4) and No. 11 South Windsor (17-6) will battle for the other spot in the finals.
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By John Goralski