By John Goralski
Charlie Lembo paced back and forth in the dugout, challenging his players to keep their heads up as they walk off the field.
For the third year in a row, the Knights charged into the semifinals. For the second time in three seasons, Southington elbowed their way into the final game. For the third year in a row, the Knights fell short of their ultimate goal.
On Saturday, June 8, Southington’s season came to an end with a 4-0 loss to Amity at Palmer Field in Middletown. As his seniors mourned their third failed attempt at a Class LL championship title, Lembo tried to keep it in perspective.
“It says a lot about our kids and the hard work they put in from the first day of school and the expectations we have as a coaching staff,” he said about the recent string of postseason rallies. “I think they buy into that, and I think they realize that it doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. There are no guarantees, either, that when you get here you’re going to get what you want.”
The loss came on the heels of a hard-fought semifinal victory on Tuesday at Muzzy Field in Bristol, the site of a controversial title game loss in 2011. Joe Rivera surrendered one run in the first inning and another one in the top of the sixth, but the junior hurler controlled the game from start to finish with six strikeouts and as many hits over a complete game victory.
“In the first inning, it looked like he really didn’t have much confidence in his breaking pitch, and his fastball was elevating,” Lembo said about Rivera’s performance on the mound. “I thought the umpire did a really good job behind the plate, but his zone was a little lower. We had to tell Joe to get his ball down lower. They were hitting the ball on some elevated fastballs. Once he got the ball down and got that curveball going, I had a good feeling.”
Southington answered the early run with two scores of their own in the bottom of the first inning to take the lead for good. The Knights put the game out of reach with a two-run rally in the fourth inning. Matt Sirois went 3-for-3 with a run and an RBI. Andrew Goralski went 2-for-3, including a pair of RBI singles. Ted Shaw (2-for-4) scored twice. Rivera scored once, and the Knights advanced with a 4-2 victory over No. 8 Trumbull (17-7).
“It feels great. It really does,” said Lembo. “A few of these guys have been with us for three or four years now, and the senior class is now going to go to two championships and a semi as sophomores, juniors, and seniors. That’s a pretty special class right there with those seniors on the field. I’ve said it before. I don’t want this season to end. I love these kids.”
Southington’s momentum didn’t carry into the final contest. Amity loaded the bases in the first inning before the Knights scored their first out, but Southington escaped the inning with a 1-0 deficit.
“We got out of that first inning with only one run, and I thought we were going to be okay,” said Lembo. “[Amity pitcher Michael Concato] threw a great game today. He kept us off balance a little bit, and he hit his spots, too. We had a couple of situations early in the game that I thought we should have capitalized on but didn’t, and I think that’s the game right there.”
Southington’s offense struggled against the future Dartmouth pitcher. Brett Shaw broke up the no-hitter in the second inning with an infield single and Matt DiNello drove two long balls into center field, including a double to the fence in the bottom of the third inning.
Nobody else reached base for the Knights as they suffered their first shutout loss of the season. The loss ended Southington’s spring campaign. The Knights fell to 20-4 with the loss.
“We could have gotten a couple of runs early in the game in the first few innings, and that was the difference,” said Lembo. “They got one in the first, and I think we needed to counter there to put some pressure on them and make them think. But they’re a really good baseball team. We made some mistakes today that were very uncharacteristic of our guys—a couple of double play balls that I thought we should have had. We just didn’t get it. I tip my hat to Coach [Sal] Coppolla at Amity, and hopefully we’ll be back and ready to go next spring.”
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