MADISON — Sometimes it takes just one break before things start to snowball. Just ask the West Haven softball team.
Stymied over the first four innings, and with their undefeated season on the line, the Westies took off.
Scoring three times in the fifth inning and adding five more in the sixth, West Haven defeated Hand 8-6 in a Southern Connecticut Conference Quinnipiac Division contest Saturday afternoon in Madison.
The Westies, ranked sixth in the GameTimeCT/Register Top 10 poll, are in the driver’s seat for the Quinnipiac Division title, and improved to 14-0 on the year.
“We have been saying that all year,” West Haven coach Joe Morrell said of his team taking advantage of its opportunities. “We did that today. Things did not go our way early today, and they had some hard hits. But, we know it is a long game and we were able to come back.”
Trailing 4-0 after four innings, the Westies used two hits, two Hand errors, a wild pitch, and an intentional walk to score three times.
Freshman Paige Beurer opened the inning with a single to center, Gigi Perkins reached on an error, and Ashlynn O’Keefe reached on a one-out error to load the bases. After Beurer scored on a wild pitch, the red-hot Kailey Carrano was intentionally walked to load the bases.
Ivy Santos made the Tigers pay. The junior ripped a single up the middle to score Perkins and O’Keefe to get West Haven within 4-3.
“I knew I needed a big hit there,” Santos said. “I was not trying to kill the ball. I just wanted to hit the ball hard. They walked a really good hitter in front of me, so I was just looking to hit the ball hard.”
Hand (7-6) rebounded in the bottom of the inning to increase the lead to 5-3, but the damage could have been worse. An apparent two-run single by Brooke Salutari only brought in Caroline O’Connor as the second runner failed to touch home plate and was ruled out after the play.
“We had opportunities,” Hand coach Mike Niekrash said. “We did not tack on runs and that is so big against a good team like them. “We had the opportunities, but did not cash in.”
With the momentum clearly shifted to the Westies despite Hand adding a run, West Haven took advantage in the sixth.
“That was the turning point of the game,” Morrell said of the fifth inning. “Kailey is such a strong hitter and Ivy is very good. This was a big game for us.”
Dianesse Rodriguez reached on an error to start the inning, then beat the throw to second on a grounder by Beurer to put a pair of runners on. With one out, leadoff hitter Morgan Peryer reached on a bunt single to load the bases, and O’Keefe reached on an error to score Rodriguez. Veronica Lynn followed with a long sacrifice fly to left to score Beurer with the equalizer, before the bats really came alive for West Haven.
With runners on second and third and the game even at five, Carrano ripped a laser off the fence in center to score Peryer and O’Keefe for a 7-5 lead. Santos then ripped a single to center to score Carrano for an 8-5 lead.
“We have come back before this year,” Carrano said. “I had to clear my head and just get a hit. We have so much confidence in each other.”
Hand answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth when Abby Cody led off with a triple and scored on a sacrifice fly by Grace Hartmann, but Santos retired the final four batters of the game, including the final two by strikeout.
The Tigers jumped on West Haven early and made it seem as if the 13-game win streak by the Westies would come to an end, scoring three times in the first inning and another in the third for a 4-0 lead.
O’Connor hit a two-run triple in the first and scored on a West Haven error for a 3-0 lead, before she doubled in the third to score Christina Coric, who led off with a triple to left.
Ivy Santos and Kailey Carrano — The pair combined for five hits and were part of the two big innings in the fifth and sixth innings for West Haven.
“I kept telling the girls to show me what they are made of. We were able to step up when we needed to. It is all about our leadership. It is the seniors and Ivy (Santos).”
— West Haven coach Joe Morrell