NAUGATUCK — With a euphonious ping, the yellow sphere became a streak, forming an arc from home plate to deep center field and eliciting another pleasant, equally scarce sound: cheers from the borough faithful.
Naugatuck catcher Skye Stella’s fourth-inning double off Tori Cheske was the Greyhounds’ first in their last 11 innings against the Holy Cross star and, it turned out, the first of only two all evening. Two days after she no-hit the Greyhounds in the regular-season finale, Cheske hurled a second straight shutout Monday, leading her No. 4 Crusaders (16-5) to an 8-0 victory that eliminated the No. 5 Hounds (14-7) from the Naugatuck Valley League tournament.
It was the third time NHS faced Cheske this season; the Crusaders’ sorceress blanked the Garnet and Grey on each occasion.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense,” Naugy coach Kevin Wesche said, “and we’re giving up runs like crazy right now.”
Naugatuck never allowed more than two runs in an inning but didn’t hang a zero on the scoreboard until the sixth, by which time Cross’ sustained attack already had produced eight tallies.
Sophomore pitcher Alexa Marucci yielded two in the first inning then looked like she might escape a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the second, when her defense let her down. HC’s Kayla Dos Santos ripped a one-hopper to shortstop, Alexis Granahan fielded it on one knee, popped up and fired to first, but Daniella Stoehrer couldn’t squeeze the rocket, and Bella Morrone crossed the plate with the third run of the game.
Cheske retired the side quickly in the top of the third then worked a walk to start the bottom half of the frame. Moments later, Marucci plunked DeAnna Aureo, presenting the Crusaders with a two-on, none-out scoring chance and drawing Wesche from the dugout for a conference with his battery.
Two pitches later, Stella set up for an upstairs delivery that instead hit her left foot and ricocheted to the backstop, allowing both runners to advance. The batter, Katie Utang, eventually popped to short, but the next one, Morrone, plated Cheske with an RBI grounder to the same spot. Compounding the play’s magnitude, Aureo slid under the tag of Andrea Granahan at third, preventing Naugatuck from recording an out.
Morrone then stole second standing up, and Alana McIldowie whacked a chopper back to the pitcher’ circle that Marucci deflected but couldn’t snare. Melissa Labonte’s throw home from center field arrived well after Aureo had crossed the plate and skipped past Stella. Here, though, Naugy caught a break. Morrone misjudged the extent to which the ball eluded the NHS catcher and attempted to score also. Stella retrieved the loose ball and relayed to Marucci, covering the plate, who applied the tag in time to erase Morrone.
Marruci got out of the inning without further damage by inducing a weak groundout to second by Jen Gregorio.
Stella’s double provided hope with two out in the next inning, but Cheske squelched the sentiment via a Lianne Wallace chopper, and it was increasingly apparent the Greyhounds would not be able to hit their way out of a five-run hole.
Searching for the loss’s redeeming quality, Wesche said he hoped his team’s early exit from the league tourney would help it prepare more thoroughly for the Class L state tournament, which begins Tuesday.
“It could,” he said. “I told the girls to take [Tuesday] off and come back for a few days of hard practice after that. … [The coaches] have been out to see seven or eight teams we might face, and we’ll see another few this weekend.”