Ellington Shuts Out South Windsor as Beebe is Superb

By Danny Atkinson 

ELLINGTON-Ellington softball does not initially seem like a natural rival of South Windsor. The Knights play for a significantly smaller school and town as well as in the NCCC, a much smaller conference than the NCCC. However, the Bobcats and Knights, both strong programs representing communities that border one another, have quickly forged a strong rivalry since beginning matchups last season. After being shut out 1-0 at South Windsor on April 17th, Ellington looked to return the favor at home Thursday behind senior ace Megan Beebe.

The Knights (13-6) defeated the Bobcats 1-0 (12-5), finally breaking through against star junior Maria Hanchuk in the fifth inning with the benefit of some shaky defense. Beebe was overpowering, allowing just two hits while striking out 11 and issuing no walks. The defense played well behind her and committed no errors.

The win was Ellington’s third straight and six in the past seven games and ended a six-game win streak for South Windsor. EHS has seemingly secured fourth place in the conference with one regular season game remaining against Canton and is in the top half of the Class M rankings. The Bobcats, who rebounded on Friday by defeating Manchester 8-0, should finish either ninth or tenth in the CCC and either or right outside of the top ten in Class L. They end the season with East Catholic and East Hartford Monday and Tuesday.

After four innings of Hanchuk at the top of her game, the bottom of the fifth began with Knights sophomore infielder Skylar Kubas timing a pitch well and launching a hard-hit fly ball to right. While Kubas would have gained a hit, most likely a double, junior Sam Ostrowski’s initial freeze on the hit and late start backing up ensured Kubas reached third base. Sophomore catcher Abby Edelstein was next up and hit a short fly to Ostrowski, who had the ball bunch off her glove to score the unearned run (EHS head coach Tom Gordon said he believed Kubas still would have scored on a sacrifice fly due to her speed). Hanchuk proceeded to set down the next three batters, two by strikeout, and was again strong in the sixth. By then, it was too late, however.

“Unfortunately, our defense has been an area that’s hurt us this year,” South Windsor head coach Mandy Roczniak said. “3 of our 5 losses have been from unearned runs and that hurts because when you have a pitcher like Maria who can keep hitters off balance and earns a lot of strikeouts, you have to then make the plays behind her when the ball goes in play. It’s about making the basic plays and being consistent.”

Beebe demonstrated great control and management of her full repertoire of pitches in the final innings after her offense got on the scoreboard. After ending the top of the fifth with a strikeout, Beebe quickly made work of hitters in the final two frames. She repeatedly jammed them and forced off-balance swings while locating pitches in different areas of the zone, with four of the final six outs being pop-ups. Edelstein ended the game by making an impressive catch on the edge of the backstop.

Gordon and Beebe both discussed the importance and excitement of defeating South Windsor, particularly in such a tense affair.

“Beating such a strong team is special for this group, particularly after they beat them 1-0 earlier in the season,” Gordon said. “We’ve only been playing South Windsor for two seasons, but we’ve demonstrated we can always play them tough despite it being a much bigger school from a larger conference.

The girls kept their confidence and focus today despite Maria’s great pitching, and it eventually paid off with some help. And of course, Megan was outstanding. This team effort will give us even more momentum heading into tournament time.”

“We all wanted to beat South Windsor badly after the first game, so this is extremely satisfying,” Beebe said. “Everyone contributed and supported one another, and I knew the offense was going to come through. The defense was great behind me as well. In winning today against a tough team, we showed we can beat anyone going forward.”

Beebe was on fire from the first pitch to the last, ultimately allowing just two hits, one a double. She was able to consistently throw strikes and keep the Bobcat hitters late and off-balance, leading to missed swings and poor contact. Much of this was due to Beebe’s ability to mix her fastball, splitter and changeup efficiently, causing batters to be regularly fooled.

“This was arguably my best start of the season,” Beebe said. “I was very proud of the command of my pitches and how I was able to avoid walks and falling behind. I knew I must do this and mix the pitches well to keep their great hitters from getting on base. Going forward, I’m going to reflect on today and try and find ways to build on it.”

“Megan had everything going today,” Gordon said. “Each of her pitches were efficient, and the mix of them was confusing and overpowering hitters. It was great for the other girls to see this and build off it and special for me. When Megan is pitching like this and has good control, she can shut down all offenses and we can beat any team.”

Roczniak discussed how the Bobcats frequent offensive struggles hurt them against Beebe.

“Megan did a great job against our hitters, so I can’t take anything away from her, but we have struggled quite a bit offensively this year. There have been many games where we’ve only gotten 2-3 hits when I know we could’ve done better. I though our hitters let too many of Megan’s pitches go by, leaving us to hit defensively instead of attacking the pitches.

Hanchuk ultimately allowed just 4 hits and struck out 8 batters while walking one. Sophomore Megan LeMay smacked a double for the Bobcats.

“Maria had another great performance in keeping hitters off balance and getting them to chase pitches with two strikes on them, and got some key outs when they had some threats on the bases. This year she’s become a smarter pitcher and is mixing pitches really well and not just relying on strikeouts or power pitches,” Roczniak said.

Last season, Ellington advanced to the second round of the M state tournament before losing to eventual champion Seymour. The Knights have been consistently better in 2018. With the squad playing some of its best baseball right now, Beebe and Gordon are confident they can win the NCCC tournament and go on a state tournament run.

“We showed both today and throughout the conference season we can beat quality teams. If we are focused and playing our best, then we can always win. Winning the conference and going on a tournament run is what we’ve been playing for all season,” Beebe said.

“At this point, we don’t have the time to gradually improve as a team. We’ve been playing really well today and in the last few games. If each player performs their role and gives total effort, then as a team we can beat any opponent,” Gordon said. We’re looking forward to the challenge of the tournaments.”

“Having a better offense will be the key for us in the postseason,” Roczniak said. “We must get more than 2-3 hits and our offense has to come from more than 2-3 kids.  We need more production 1-9 and we need more bat on ball and fewer strikeouts if we have any shot of getting past that first or second round.”

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *