Cheshire reached its CIAC Class LL softball second-round game on Tuesday afternoon against Fairfield Ludlowe by defeating Hamden in the first round on Monday on junior pitcher MacKenzie Juodaitis's no-hitter.
Not only did the ninth-seeded Falcons get a hit on Tuesday at No. 8 Cheshire, they got a run. And that was in the first inning. But Ludlowe's hitters produced nothing else the rest of the way and their defense was not flawless.
Juodaitis followed up her no-hitter by firing a one-hitter with one walk and 11 strikeouts at Ludlowe, sending the Falcons to a 3-1, season-ending defeat. Ludlowe, which stood at 11-1 on May 6, finished the season by losing six of its last 11 games to wind up with a 16-7 record. Cheshire scored a run in the third inning and two in the fourth. The Rams improved to 17-6 and will face No. 1 Southington, a 13-0 winner over No. 17 Newtown, in a quarterfinal on Thursday.
Juodaitis was indecisive when asked to compare her back-to-back pitching gems, but Rams coach Kristine Drust didn't hedge a speck in rating the one-hitter as a better performance.
"She threw much better today than she did yesterday," Drust said. "She had better mechanics. She threw harder, had better pitches and faced a better hitting team. She hit the corners and she painted the black. All the intangibles of a good pitcher she had today."
With two outs in the top of the first inning, Falcons' third baseman Brenna Martini launched a home run over the left-field fence to put Juodaitis and Cheshire in a 1-0 hole. That was the turning point in Drust's view.
"She threw a change-up, she hung it (to Martini), got angry (with herself) and improved after that," Drust said. "I think it really made her bear down. She's really been working on her fundamentals."
Ludlowe coach Shari Paci did not say Juodaitis's performance was the best pitching effort the Falcons had encountered this season. But she admitted it was definitely right up there.
"I knew one run was not going to be enough," Paci said. "We need more timely hits to be successful. We were getting pretty deep in the count, so we had to swing at pitches that weren't ours."
Drust agreed with Paci's comments on the Ludlowe batters' swing selection. "She (Juodaitis) made their batters chase and hit our pitcher's pitches instead of their pitches," Drust said. Nearly every Falcons' batter faced an 0-1 count for the second pitch of their at bats.
Cheshire tied the score at 1-1 on three hits in the bottom of the third inning when Casey Harding's single to left field knocked in Megan Hodgdon, who had led off against Ludlowe pitcher Brigette Anderson with a single. In the fourth inning, the Rams, of the SCC, added the go-ahead and insurance runs. An infield fielding error and Maggie O'Reilly's bunt single put runners on first and second to start the inning. Hodgdon's sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third and one batter later BryAnna McIntosh drove them both home with a single into left field.
Martini's home run served as motivation for Juodaitis, she said. "I used it to get better and not let anything happen again," Juodaitis said. "I tried to focus on every pitch. I knew this team had good batters. And my team has backed me up."
Her counterpart, Anderson, allowed six hits and pitched well, with Paci crediting her with keeping the Falcons in the game.
"We picked up our game yesterday (13-6 win over New Milford at Sturges Park), and had momentum coming in, but we just couldn't pull it out."
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CIAC Class LL softball second round
Cheshire 3, Fairfield Ludlowe 1
FAIRFIELD LUDLOWE 100 000 0--1 1 1
CHESHIRE 001 200 X--3 6 1
Records: Fairfield Ludlowe 16-7, Cheshire 17-6. Batteries: FL--Brigette Anderson (L) and Katie DeCarlo; C--MacKenzie Juodaitis (W) and Megan Hodgdon. Highlights: FL--Brenna Martini hit a home run. C--Juodaitis threw a one-hitter with one walk and 11 strikeouts. Casey Harding drove in the tying run. BryAnna McIntosh drove in two runs.