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The Southern Connecticut Conference was already one of the toughest softball leagues in the state, arguably the best.

With perennial state playoff contender Lauralton Hall officially on board, it’s only going to get tougher.

The Crusaders enjoyed a successful start in their first game as a member of the SCC after moving over from the South-West Conference, cruising to a 16-0 victory over Shelton in the season-opener for both teams on a cold and blustery afternoon Wednesday at the Lauralton Hall field.

Standout senior centerfielder Alexa Dawid went 4-for-5 with three triples, four RBIs and five runs scored to lead an 18-hit offensive attack, while junior pitcher Ireland Miessau threw a complete-game two-hitter with 14 strikeouts.

With five seniors returning from a team that went 21-5 overall with appearances in the SWC finals and Class L semifinals last spring, including four players already committed to play in college, the Crusaders are looking to take another big step forward this season.

The move to the SCC should do nothing but help.

“I’m excited about it,” Lauralton Hall head coach Amanda Acampora said. “The competition is better. The travel is better. Everything is much closer. So we’re very excited about it.”

Lauralton certainly made a huge first impression, pounding out seven extra-base hits, including a two-run home run by senior second-baseman Jackie Brewster in the third.

Lauralton scored five times in the second to take a 5-0 lead, added four in the third and two in the fifth, then ended the game via the mercy rule with five runs in the sixth.

Kaitlyn Mingione (2-for-4, three RBIs) put an end to the shutout victory with a one-out single.

It was the type of victory that should cause the rest of the SCC to stand up and take notice, as if it wasn’t already.

“There’s a lot more competition in this league,” said Dawid, who will play at Manhattan College next year. “We’re an older team now. We have a lot of seniors, so we’re hoping to do well. This was a good start for us. It definitely made a statement.”

Eight of nine players in the Lauralton lineup had at least one hit. Leadoff hitter Christina Cotrell had two hits and three runs scored and catcher Alex Moleski also had two hits.

The middle of Lauralton’s lineup did most of the damage behind Dawid, Brewster and Lindsey Spitz.

Brewster went 3-for-4 with a home run, triple and four RBIs while Spitz went 3-for-4 with two doubles, an RBI-single and a sacrifice fly to deep center in the fifth.

“I was happy with our start,” Acampora said. “They did what they had to do at the plate. They executed with runners in scoring position and ran the bases well.”

Dawid picked up right where she left off last season when batted .687 with 32 RBIs, 21 runs and 24 stolen bases.

Dawid got things going with a triple to left with one out in the first, scoring when Brewster followed with a triple of her own to center.

Dawid added two-run triples in the third and sixth, both of which could have been home runs on a warmer day, and also added a bunt single and a stolen base in the fifth.

“Alexa is just special,” Acampora said. “She needs no instructions. She knows what she’s doing at all times. She’s a triple threat. She can drop the ball down, she can slap it and she can hit for power.”

Lauralton was without pitcher Haley Congdon, who missed two weeks of the preseason with a pulled muscle in her leg. Congdon, a 20-game winner last year who started 22 of Lauralton’s 25 games, is expected to return soon.

When that happens, the Crusaders will have a solid 1-2 pitching rotation. Miessau allowed a one-out single in the first then set down 17 of the next 19 batters she faced, giving up only a two-out walk in the second and a single in the fourth.

She did it on a day that was almost too cold to stand up straight, let alone grip a softball and make it dance.

“She kept the ball moving and she kept it low,” Acampora said. “And she kept her velocity up, and that’s not easy to do in this type of cold.”

“I was impressed that their pitcher got stronger as the game went along,” Shelton head coach Joann Desrochers said.

Alexa Furnari walked twice and scored a run, Erin McCann had a single and two runs scored and Emma Larke added a single, walk and two runs scored for Lauralton.