Newtown High School's softball team won consecutive games in walk-off style behind Jess Gibbons' heroics, then won a pair of mercy-rule blowouts via 19-run performances to put together a four-game winning streak — pushing the team to the .500 mark — to close out the month of April.
The Nighthawks, coming off a 6-4 setback to ten-win Oxford on April 25, won a pair of games in their final at-bat on back-to-back days. They beat visiting Weston 6-5 in a comeback effort in the bottom of the seventh inning on April 26, then pulled off a 4-3 victory over Joel Barlow of Redding the next day. Gibbons won the Weston game with a bases-loaded single up the middle and clinched the Barlow game with a long home run down the right field line.
"It feels great," Gibbons said of her fifth homer of the spring being such a clutch one. "I think the past couple games we've built our confidence. We're doing really well — putting it all together this year."
"It's getting to be a point where if she doesn't do it we'll be disappointed in the poor girl," Newtown Coach Bob Guererra said of Gibbons repeatedly coming through in big spots. "She's just phenomenal. I told her she's the best hitter we've ever had."
In the loss to Oxford, Gibbons was 3-for-3, including a triple and homer, with a two runs batted in and two runs scored. Dani Shine tripled and Nora Murphy added two hits, including a double.
In the Weston game, NHS scored three runs in each its first and last at-bats, overcoming a 5-3 deficit in the seventh. Newtown scored all of its decisive-inning runs with no outs. Karlie Kuligowski started the rally with a leadoff walk. Gillian Galante followed with a walk, and Maddy Hauck had an infield hit to load the bases. Mikayla Kuligowski and Abi Kuligowski had RBI singles, and Gibbons ended it with her bases-loaded knock. Shine and Murphy both drove in runs in the first.
Against Barlow, Gibbons was 3-for-4 with two home runs and three runs scored.
The Nighthawks, who started slowly with just one win in their first six games, feature an overall young lineup of inexperienced players — including freshman pitcher Galante, who says it's not so tough going up against upperclassmen on a regular basis. "I don't really think about it that much," she said. "I used to get nervous. Now I'm getting used to it."
Guererra has been impressed with his first-year high schooler's poise in the pitching circle.
"Gillian has been very, very steady for us," Guererra said. "She's consistent — throws strikes, rarely walks people, and keeps us in the game."
Newtown suffered a couple of close losses early on, in large part as a result of costly errors in the field. The team has suffered a few lopsided defeats to the strongest of the SWC foes but, when given the chance, has piled up the runs against weaker conference opponents.
Newtown visited Notre Dame of Fairfield on April 28 and came home with a 19-4 triumph in a five innings, then blanked host Immaculate of Danbury 19-0 on April 30 in five innings. The Nighthawks carried a 6-6 overall record (5-4 mark in South-West Conference play) into the month of May.
In the Notre Dame game, Newtown's offense produced 20 hits. Mikayla Kuligowski had three hits and four runs batted in, Kayla O'Grady had four hits and three RBI, Gibbons had three hits and three RBI, Shine added four hits, and Murphy and Emily Woznick both drove in a pair of runs.
Against Immaculate, Galante tossed a one-hitter with ten strikeouts. She had plenty of run support once again as O'Grady led the way with four hits, including a pair of doubles, and Karlie Kuligowski had three hits and six runs driven in. Hauck delivered three hits, including a three-run triple, and knocked in four.