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The early part of the campaign has had a postseason feel to it for Newtown High School’s softball team. The Nighthawks defeated a pair of nonconference foes in dramatic fashion. In the April 8 season opener, the Nighthawks overcame a late 3-0 deficit to edge host Darien, a team that had nipped Newtown in the state tournament two years ago, 4-3. Then, in the April 11 home opener, the Hawks broke through to end a scoreless stalemate with a 1-0 walk-off victory over another tough FCIAC team, St Joseph of Trumbull.
The old cliche, “a win’s a win” may hold water, but these types of victories can give a team an extra jolt of energy and confidence. Newtown Coach Bob Guererra is hopeful being involved in pressure, playoff-like situations will pay off when the postseason finally rolls around, late in May.
“I think everybody would agree that come-from-behind wins are much better than the ones you lead wire to wire because it gives you confidence, number one,” Guererra said. “It gives the confidence that when you’re down you don’t panic — you’ve been there before.”
Newtown pitcher Sara Kennedy points out that the Nighthawks have some experience overcoming the opposition dating back to previous seasons.
“It’s fun,” Kennedy said of playing in nail-biting games. “We’re a comeback team. We always come back.”
Darien put up three runs in the third inning and seemed poised to add to the lead in the fourth when things got started with a leadoff triple. But Kennedy buckled down and struck out the next three batters to escape the jam. The team seemed to get a spark from Kennedy wiggling out of trouble.
“She struck the side out and never looked back,” Guererra said of Kennedy, who finished the game with eight strikeouts.
Newtown responded with a three-run inning of its own, tying the score in the fifth. Jackie Moccio was hit by a pitch leading off, Mackenzie Macchiarulo doubled for one of her two hits in the game, putting runners at second and third, and set up Kennedy with an opportunity to drive in runs. Kennedy followed with a two-run triple, and was plated to tie the game on Kamdyn Moroney’s productive ground out.
In the sixth, Shannon Cheh led off with a single and Tess Mubarek singled to put base runners on the corners. Emily Bell hit a deep sacrifice fly, driving in pinch runner Kendra Saunders with the go-ahead and decisive run.
The St Joe’s game featured a pitching duel between Kennedy and Payton Doiron as the circle counterparts hung goose eggs for the first six innings. The scoreless deadlock didn’t unfold without some suspense. The Cadets, in fact, loaded the bases with one out in the first inning before Kennedy bore down to display her escape artistry once more, striking out the next two hitters to keep the game even.
Kennedy worked around a leadoff double in the sixth, and worked around a one-out hit in the top of the seventh, getting some help from catcher Mubarek who ended the frame when she made a nice grab of a foul pop against the Newtown dugout protective fence. St Joe’s, thanks to Kennedy’s work, stranded ten base runners in the contest.
“It seems like the tougher the situation the higher concentration she has. Every time she had runners in scoring position she never made a mistake,” Guererra said. “It’s a great trait for a pitcher to make great pitches in tough spots.”
Kennedy struck out six, walked two, and allowed six hits in the won over St Joe’s.
Newtown capitalized on an error and two wild pitches in the seventh. Cheh reached base on a dropped pop fly and pinch runner Erin Burns advanced to second and third on errant pitches. Bell worked a one-out walk, fouling off a 3-2 pitch to stay alive before earning the base on balls. Guererra had Bell steal second in an effort to give the Hawks a second chance at pushing the winning run to third in the event of a tag play at home plate, and also negate the possibility of a conventional double play. The strategy became a moot point when Rachel O’Grady grounded to second and Burns beat the throw home.
“It was a great at bat,” Guererra said of O’Grady putting the ball into play to drive in the winning run. “We don’t give up.”
Bell and Kennedy each had singles and walks, and Moroney also had a hit for the Nighthawks.
Coaches from other teams were on hand to watch the game, which the Newtown coach believes could be a taste of things to come after the regular campaign.
“It was a playoff atmosphere,” Guererra said.