By John Goralski
Coaches and fans were already noticing fatigue with the pitchers when Southington came to the plate at the bottom of the 15th inning. On Saturday, June 14, the game was already dragging toward the three and a half hour mark, and the moon was already climbing high into the sky.
So nobody expected much from Southington’s catcher as she wobbled out to the batter’s box to lead off for the Lady Knights. As tired as the pitchers were, the catchers were even worse. Dube was called for two strikes before she drove the third pitch over the left field fence.
Southington players were already celebrating at home plate when Dube trudged around first base. They were already lined up when the catcher lumbered around second. It wasn’t until she circled third base that she realized the implications of her long fly ball.
Dube’s homerun clinched the state title.
“I was just telling my teammates how tired I am,” she said, still clutching her homerun ball to her chest. “I didn’t even know it was over the fence. I just wanted to get around the bases so that we could score and end this game. I didn’t know it until everyone was lining up. Then I knew it was out. It was a great feeling.”
Leading up to the final at bat, it looked like the game would never end. Amity pitcher Katie Koshes recorded 21 strikeouts. Southington ace Kendra Friedt added 16 strikeouts of her own. The two high-powered offenses were held to just a dozen hits before Dube launched the one that counted.
Only eight others reached scoring position, and even the officials were wondering if it would ever end.
“The inning right before, the umpire told me that they were checking on a curfew. They didn’t know if this game had to end,” said Lady Knight coach Davina Hernandez. “This was a pitching duel. It was two great teams that played great defense and had great pitching.”
That wasn’t the case in their previous meeting. In 2012, the teams met in the championship game, and Amity won a 10-6 decision punctuated by extra base hits, defensive lapses, and ineffective pitching. Friedt was called in to stop the bleeding as a freshman, but was chased out of the game with a mid-game rally.
The rematch was decidedly different.
“They really rocked me as a freshman, so to shut them out is a really great feeling,” said Friedt. “That experience definitely paid off. I was under pressure then, and I was under pressure today. But I could deal with it a little better today. Today, I felt really confident even when I went in 0-0 in the 15th.”
Friedt struck out at least one batter in eight of the first nine innings. She scattered eight hits over 15 innings, and Southington snapped a three game losing streak against Amity in the championship game.
“Kendra got better and better and better and better each inning, but she works so hard,” said Hernandez. “I think that her endurance helped her a lot. She didn’t lose any velocity the whole game, and that’s over two games that she pitched. She’s amazing.”
As good as Friedt was, Amity matched her pitch for pitch. Sydney Ferrante struck out five times in six at bats. Kaitlin Paterson and Friedt struck out three times apiece. Southington had outscored teams 23-1 to reach the championship game, but Amity’s lefty pitcher held Southington to one runner or less in all but one inning of the contest.
“It’s a little harder to hit a lefty pitcher, and she has a lot of movement going on,” said Hernandez. “Usually when that happens they just throw it in or spin it, but she throws it hard. She works it up, down, and really worked it outside. We adjusted. We started crowding the plate a little bit, and in the middle of the game we started to get a hold of those for shots that got caught.”
In fact, Amity had the best chance to score in regulation with one out rally in the sixth inning that was stopped by Paterson’s throw to the plate. Amity pushed a second runner to third base, but Friedt struck out the final batter to end the threat.
Offensively, the Knights turned to bunts and three stolen bases to try to manufacture a run, but it was Dube’s long ball in the 15th that proved to be Southington’s only scoring opportunity as the Knights struggled for the first time this season.
“Our first four hits of the game were off bunts, so we still had our aggressive, small ball, running going, but when you don’t get a lot of people on base, you can’t get it going,” said Hernandez. “We had to get our bunts down, but we missed about two or three bunt signs early in the game. We missed a steal sign to third when I thought we could catch the third baseman sleeping a little bit. They started to pick it up a little bit and crashing the bunt, so I let them hit away and we did. Then, we made some solid contact.”
The long ball played a role in Southington’s semifinal victory, too. On Tuesday, June 9, Southington struggled against Hand’s off-speed pitches, but Ferrante (2-for-3, 4 RBI) opened the floodgates with a three-run homerun in the bottom of the third inning.
Paterson, Lauren Zazzaro (2-for-3, 2 runs), and Ferrante scored in a three-run rally in the fifth, and Haley Arduini capped the scoring with an in-the-park homerun in the sixth inning that also scored Friedt.
“It took us a couple of innings to adjust, but we did,” said Hernandez. “The thing that I liked is that I had three or four girls off the bench, and they all drove the ball. That’s been a question all year. What are we going to do against good pitching? In all of our tournament games, we’ve shown people that we can drive the ball from No. 1 through 18.”
Friedt dominated on the mound, allowing just two hits with 11 strikeouts as the Knights advanced to their third championship game in as many years.
Hernandez circled her team after the game, and asked. “What have I been saying all year long?”
In unison they answered, “One game at a time.”
“We can finally talk about…” she asked
With the 1-0 win over Amity, Southington captured their 16th state title in 20 attempts. Amity has appeared in 13 championship contests. Amity is 3-4 against the Knights in championship bouts.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.