By John Goralski
It looked like Southington’s postseason was over before it started, and that wasn’t the way things were supposed to be going.
The Knights stormed through the regular season with a 17-3 record. They earned a bye in the first round of the Class LL championship, but Southington just couldn’t seem to get the lead over West Haven.
The Blue Devils struck first with a run in the second inning. They took a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth before the Knights scored their second tie of the contest, but a go ahead run in the eighth inning seemed to seal Southington’s fate. Or did it?
John Mikosz led off the eighth with a pinch hit single, and Joe Rivera drew a walk with two outs to put runners on first and third. Liam Scafariello shrugged off three pitches outside the strike zone before going out to get the fourth, and his long fly ball into the trees in left field gave Southington their first lead of the game.
“I knew that they weren’t going to pitch to me,” said Scafariello. “It was up at my letters, but I got my hands on it quick and put a pretty good piece on it.”
Blue Knight coach Charlie Lembo said that his power hitter had the green light with three balls and no strikes. “If you look up 3-0 and see what kind of swing you want to put on it, that one would be there,” he said. “It might have been a little up, but I think he got a good piece of it. The wind was blowing in pretty good, too. You don’t see a lot of baseballs get out of this field.”
Scafariello had already scored a home run in the fourth inning to tie the game, 1-1, and he finished as one of two Southington batters with multiple hits. Joe Daigle went 2-for-3. Ryan DeAngelo, Adam Wilson, and Mikosz were the only others to score hits as the Knights manufactured six runs on seven hits.
On the mound, Rivera struggled at times, scattering five hits, four walks, and three strikeouts over 6 1/3 innings. He allowed only one earned run but left the game with a 3-3 tie. Kyle Cole allowed three hits in relief, and the Knights came to the plate for their final at bat trailing, 4-3.
“We didn’t play the way that we can today,” he said. “We didn’t do too many things the way we should or could. Joe didn’t have his best stuff today, but he really gutted it out. Ryan DeAngelo came up with a couple of big RBI. We lost a chance to score a couple of more in that inning because…”
The pause came as Lembo struggled for the words. The Knights lost a chance to win the game in regulation with another controversial celebration that was reminiscent of a 2011 championship game loss to Newington.
DeAngelo drove a single up the middle in the sixth inning to score Daigle and Rivera. As Southington players charged onto the field to celebrate, officials made an interference call to signal the third out of the inning and end Southington’s rally with a runner at third base.
Instead of having a chance to score the go ahead run, the Knights took the field with the game tied, 3-3. West Haven nearly ended the game with an extra inning run in the top of the eighth inning before Southington’s final comeback.
“The ball was kicked away from the catcher, and guys started running out,” said Rivera. “Somebody either kicked it away from the catcher or something that was interference. Next time, we’re going to put a rope up in the dugout to keep us back.”
With the victory, Southington advanced to face Manchester in the quarterfinals. Once again, the Knights faced early trouble.
Manchester loaded the bases with one out in the first inning, but Cole scored two strikeouts to end the threat. Cole went on to score nine strikeouts in a complete game shutout. Southington rallied for a 5-0 win.
“It was a phenomenal job. [Cole] gave up that one hit to their lead off hitter and that was it for the rest of the game,” said Lembo. “He really gutted it out. He dug deep and was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes. That was key. He got ahead in the count and then he was able to go to his secondary pitches.”
At the plate, Southington rallied for four runs in the fourth inning to put the game out of reach. Scafariello, DeAngelo, Adam Wilson, and Brett Shaw scored reached base and scored in the inning.
“I thought we played really well today defensively,” said Lembo. “Joe Daigle made three outs in a row in the fifth inning with that Jeter-jump in the hole. What a nice play…They’re a good team and we had to play our best to beat them. I have to give them a lot of credit.”
With the victory, No. 3 Southington (19-3) advanced to the semifinals for the fourth time in as many years.
“Every year it’s special. Every year it’s our focus,” said Lembo. “Get the eight wins as quick as possible to get into the tournament, win the CCC west, and make noise in the tournament. Four straight years we’ve been in the semis. Some of theses guys weren’t here before, so it’s still a new experience.”
The Knights will face No. 15 Fairfield Warde (15-8). Warde upset Trumbull, 5-1, in the quarterfinals. If they win, Southington will face the winner of the semifinal game between No. 4 Simsbury (17-5) and No. 17 Amity (15-8).
“I never really concern myself with where we play, who we play, or what time we play,” said Lembo. “We always focus on us. We need to continue to get a little better each day. That’s what we’ve said since day one. There’s no thinking about a state championship. We have to win on Tuesday.”
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By John Goralski