TRUMBULL — After popping out to shortstop on the first pitch with two outs and two runners on in the fifth inning, St. Joseph catcher Charlee Horton was reminded by her coach, Jeff Babineau, about the importance of patience.
There were no runners on when Horton came to bat in the bottom of the eighth inning of a tied game with Trumbull. Horton watched the first pitch go by. Four pitches later, Horton watched the ball she rocketed go over the fence in right-center. It left the field in a matter of seconds and gave the Cadets a 2-1 win today over the Eagles in the most anticipated league game of the regular season.
“I was just zoning into the pitcher, trying to help out my team,” Horton said. “Just looking right for the ball. I knew that was gone.”
It took into early evening to find some separation between rival schools that began the day undefeated. The Cadets improved to 13-0 and 10-0 in league play in a game Babineau said was nothing more than just the 13th game of the regular season.
His players may have viewed it somewhat differently.
“It was a good win,” Horton said. “A tough one. A long one, but it’s a good one.”
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Horton said her coach’s words resonated with her during the final two trips to the plate.
“I just wanted the changeup on the first one,” Horton said. “I was anxious. This time I waited for my ball, got in the zone and ripped it.”
Horton’s hit was her second of the day and just the fifth by the team against two Trumbull pitchers. If Horton provided the dramatics, it was the steely resolve of St. Joseph pitcher Payton Doiron that greased the win. Doiron gave up eight hits but stranded 10 runners, twice leaving the bases loaded with one out.
“She’s gotten to the point, she’s matured from her freshman year to her junior year quite well,” Babineau said. “We always say it’s not the hit you give up, it’s the next batter and how you handle it. And she handled herself well.”
The strikeout was Doiron’s preferred means of escape, and she fanned 13.
“She’s on fire,” Horton said of her pitcher. “She’s amazing. A big thing we talk about is wanting it and getting that fire from within. She’ll get mad if she walks someone but she knows with that next pitch she’s got to come back and get the next batter. She just zones in and does her job.”
The Eagles are now 13-1 over all and 9-1 in league play.
Trumbull coach Jacqui Sheftz opted to start Kenzie Bruggeman on the mound for the first time this season and was rewarded with a strong performance. Bruggeman yielded just two hits in 4 1/3 innings before moving to third base.
“I coach a lot from my gut and I felt like that was best for our team today,” Sheftz said. “I think she did a really nice job. She did a great job, holding down the fort for the first few innings. It is something that we utilized last year during the state tournament and we thought we’d take another look at it today.”
Bruggeman staked herself to a lead in the fourth when she singled in Maggie Coffin, who had drawn a leadoff walk. That would be the lone time the Eagles delivered on a scoring opportunity.
“You’ve got to tip your hat to Horton,” said Sheftz. “But it didn’t come down to that one pitch. You can’t leave that many runners in scoring position. Any time you outhit a team you expect to win the ballgame. We just didn’t execute offensively with runners in scoring position.”
Sheftz brought in Emily Gell, her usual starting pitcher, after Cami Heintz, the Cadets’ No. 9 hitter, singled with one out in the fifth. It was Gell who induced Horton to pop up.
“I think it was just a matter of how many times I was comfortable with St. Joe’s going through their lineup seeing Kenzie,” said Sheftz. “I think if Kenzie has two outs in that situation and the leadoff coming up we probably pitch to her and if not we made a choice as a coaching staff that we were going to go with Gell if the top of the order came up with less than two outs.”
The Cadets finally tied the game in the sixth. Brittany Mairano singled with one out and was sacrificed to second. Alyssa Noce drove a 1-2 pitch to deep leftfield, scoring Mairano.
The game remained even until Horton said she delivered her first game-ending homer at any level.
“You knew she was going to get one sooner or later,” Babineau said. “We had good swings all day. You have to find the holes here or there and they’ve got great pitchers over there. You’re not going to get eight runs. You’ve got to scrap them out and we did.”