By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington softball started the last week with a game against a tough Middletown team. The Lady Knights ended their week against the only team to beat them in the regular season last year, NFA.
Southington came back to beat Middletown 8-4 on April 24, then outlasted NFA 5-3 on April 25. Both games were at home, and the Knights improved to 7-1 on the season.
Southington coach Davina Hernandez said she knew her team was in for a challenge against Middletown. The Knights led 2-1 entering the top of the sixth inning, but the Dragons scored three times to take a 4-2 lead of their own.
“There’s a lot of game left,” Hernandez said she told her team. “We have two innings, and I just told them to start chipping away and answer back, and that’s been our motto all year.”
Southington scored two runs on back-to-back singles from Katie Gundersen and Diane Williams to tie the game, 4-4, and then the Knights went to something they have been known for in the past. Southington played small-ball, and it was a bunting clinic. Nicole Greco, Alex Rogers and Kelsey Fernandez all bunted for base hits. The Rogers bunt loaded the bases, then Chrissy Marotto ripped a double to give the Knights a 6-4 lead. With second and third and one out, Fernandez’s bunt scored Rogers to make it 7-4. Gabby Malachowski was thrown out at first on a sacrifice bunt, but Marotto scored and Southington was up 8-4.
“That’s actually something we’ve been working on a lot in practice is bunting,” Hernandez said. “That’s something I reflected on as a coach from last season, and I said we can do better, we can be better.”
The Knights couldn’t have bunted much better than they did against the Dragons, and it gave reliever Julia Panarella all the support she needed. After a one-out walk, Panarella got two strikeouts and a grounder to Rogers at second to end the game. Katelyn Lipsky started the game and gave up a single run in the first four innings to go along with seven strikeouts.
Hernandez praised the efforts of Jazmin Lasane, Kayla Pelletier and Ashlyn Desaulniers off the bench. Lasane pinch hit in the fifth inning and singled home Desaulniers, who was running for Panarella, to make the score 2-1. Pelletier pinch ran for Williams in the sixth and scored on Marotto’s double.
The Middletown game was the start of two big days in a row for Panarella, who was tabbed as the starting pitcher against NFA. All the junior right-hander did was toss Southington’s first complete game of the season. She gave up three runs on six hits, struck out seven and walked three on 124 pitches.
“That was nice to come back from the loss last year with the win,” said Panarella, who found out she was pitching at the beginning of the game. She said she never thought she would pitch all seven innings.
Southington scored a run in the bottom of the second inning on Greco’s RBI double.
“She’s been hitting balls right at people, and I told her just keep swinging,” Hernandez said about Greco. “She’s been working really hard on her swing, and I knew they would come. She tends to step up in the big games, she did again today, and that’s awesome.”
The Knights added two runs in the third inning on an error and a passed ball. In the fifth, Southington extended the lead to 5-0 on Fernandez’s RBI triple and Abby Lamson’s sacrifice fly.
“She’s tough because she’s very fast, she’s deceivingly fast. You just don’t know how to play her,” said Hernandez about her center fielder Fernandez. “She’ll drop a bunt, she can slap, and as you can see, she can put a ball out 220.”
NFA used its disciplined approach at the plate to score three times in the top of the seventh inning and make things interesting. The tying run was on second base, but there were two outs and Southington was up a run.
“Just get the last out,” Panarella said when asked what she was thinking. “That run on the base doesn’t matter because we’re still up two runs.”
A pop out to Marotto at shortstop ended the game.
Up next: Southington started the week with a big road test at Cheshire on Tuesday. The Knights were scheduled to be on the road at NW Catholic on Wednesday. On Friday, Southington is home for the annual Lupus awareness game against Enfield at 4:45 p.m.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com