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SOFTBALL: It’s the ‘Southington Six’ as Davina Hernandez and the Lady Knights take a wholesale new approach

SOFTBALL: It’s the ‘Southington Six’ as Davina Hernandez and the Lady Knights take a wholesale new approach

reporter photo

SOUTHNGTON — Southington softball had a strong collection of pitchers entering the 2019 campaign and Blue Knights head coach Davina Hernandez is going to use them all.

Hernandez has used five pitchers in her squad’s six games this season, with a sixth hurler on the mend. The mixing and matching has helped the Blue Knights jump out to a 5-1 start.

Southington typically uses pitchers two or three innings at a time to keep arms fresh and opposing hitters off balance.

The Blue Knights’ half dozen features senior Julia Theriault, juniors Katelyn Lipsky and Kelsey Fernandez, sophomore Julia Panarella and freshmen Dominique Gaudio and Samantha Sullivan.

“We have some options and they all bring different pieces to the table,” Hernandez said. “Anyone who’s had a chance to see us play can see they are very different pitchers who bring different speeds and different pitches. They keep it in different areas of the zone.”

All have logged innings for Southington this season except Fernandez, whose elbow isn’t 100 percent. She does have a big role on the team as the squad’s center fielder.

Hernandez said opposing coaches have come up to her and said the strategy has worked.

“A couple of coaches have said, ‘Just about when we were going to come through the lineup again and we were getting used to this pitcher, you switched it up on us.’ That’s been the goal for us to keep people on their toes and keep people off balance, and I think we have done a really good job keeping (our) composure and knowing (our) role,” Hernandez said.

Like most schools, Southington has gone with one pitcher most years. Last year was no exception. Kara Zazzaro, who is now pitching at Iona, was Southington’s ace in the circle.

“This year is very different for me, as it is for them,” Hernandez said. “It gives teams a different look and it’s good to have options depending on the day.”

Hernandez said the pitchers hitting their spots during live hitting in practice is one of the factors she uses to decide who to deploy. She also factors in the strength of the opposing lineup.

“The cold has been one factor. Some pitchers are better in the cold than others. If someone gets a sore shoulder. A big piece of it has been the accuracy and the pitchers hitting the most spots. Every week has been different.”

Having a wealth of pitchers at about the same level pushed Hernandez in this direction. The Southington Six also are imposing on the mound. The average height, Hernandez estimates, is 5 feet, 9 inches.

“It’s not the fastest or oldest pitcher that’s going to be the No. 1,” Hernandez said. “All of them deserve to be in a varsity circle and I just think it’s only helped us to have those options.”

Theriault has waited her turn behind a pair of All-American pitchers in Kendra Friedt (Boston College) and Zazzaro (Iona).

“I think there was some people out there that under-estimated Julia and didn’t know what to expect,” Hernandez said. “I know last year her ERA was 0.00. Most people don’t realize that because she was in the shadow of Kara Zazzaro, who was a phenomenal pitcher. Julia didn’t always get the recognition as she deserved.”

Theriault (3-1, 1.61 ERA, team-high 13 innings) throws with good movement and throws a variety of pitches, and has emerged as one of Southington’s primary starters. Theriault and Lipsky have pitched in all six games this season.

“Honestly, you really don’t know until she makes the lineup,” Theriault said. “You never know and it keeps you on your toes, for sure.”

Theriault has five pitches in her arsenal: fastball, two-seam, changeup, drop, curve and screwball. She said she’s never been a part of a team that has used this many pitchers.

“Not this many pitchers. In travel leagues we usually go just one a game and rotate,” Theriault said. “I’ve never been a part of a team that rotates every two or three innings. It’s kind of crazy.”

Theriault has been pitching since the second grade.

“I’ve worked very hard,” Theriault said. “I would always tell my dad that I wanted to be the one in the circle, so it’s definitely a thrill.”

Lipsky (2-0, 0.00 ERA in 5 innings) is a hard thrower and has started two games this year. She thrives in the warm temperatures and is also a starting outfielder.

“Coach tells us the day of if we are pitching,” Lipsky said. “We all work out and get in practice and we don’t know who is going to pitch before then. It keeps it interesting.”

Lipsky throws a changeup, curve and screwball in addition to a fastball.

Panarella (0-0, 1.67 ERA, 14 strikeouts in 12 innings) has pinpoint control. Hernandez deployed her against a tough Bristol Eastern squad.

That proved to be Southington’s lone loss of the season. The game was halted by rain in the bottom of the sixth after Southington had taken the lead in the top half. The game reverted back to the last completed inning — the fifth — and Southington wound up with the loss.

“I think the pitching rotation is pretty smart because the other team doesn’t get used to the pitchers,” Panarella said. “Everyone has different speeds and everyone has different pitches. It kinds of shakes it up.”

Panarella, who has pitched for 10 years, throws a drop, change, fastball, two-seam and a drop-curve.

Fernandez pitched for Southington in the preseason and will be logging innings before the season is out.

“We’ve been trying to get her fully healthy with her pitching arm before getting her back out there,” Hernandez said. “She has tremendous control.”

Fernandez has a variety of off-speed pitches.

“It’s really exciting and we all worked so hard to get here,” Fernandez said. “I think it’s a good idea having a rotation. The batters get to see something different because we are all different pitchers.”

The two freshmen, Gaudio and Sullivan, are both flame-throwers. Gaudio has appeared in four games. Sullivan has worked in two.

“They are very similar, but also very different,” Hernandez said. “They both throw very hard, both in the low 60s. I didn’t believe it until I saw it because there is always a lot of talk about pitchers coming in throwing 60. Dom and Sam just lack the experience at the varsity level. I’m trying to get them experience for them to get those nerves out.

“They are both going to be phenomenal pitchers and we have a couple of other freshman pitchers who are also very good.”

Southington will play its first game in a week on Wednesday at home against Middletown. Next week, Southington has four games, including Tuesday at Cheshire and Thursday at home against Norwich Free Academy. Those are two potential Class LL playoff matchups.

“I think we are going to open a lot of eyes this year and show people that we have a lot more depth than people would imagine because we did lose a lot of depth from last year,” Hernandez said.