Post 72 wins state championship: Southington’s second Connecticut title comes 25 years after the first

Teammates celebrate Jeremy Mercier’s second postseason home run that gave set the pace in game two of the state finals. (Photo by John Goralski)

By KEVIN ROBERTS

STAFF WRITER

Southington had already come back from a two-run deficit and a one-run deficit when Andrew Owsianko stepped to the plate trailing 6-5 in the bottom of the eighth inning. On Saturday, Aug. 4, Southington’s “comeback kids” were looking for another walk-off miracle during their Cinderella run.

This time, Owsianko was the hero.

Josh Panarella reached base on a one-out single. Brayden Cooney drew a two-out walk to bring Owsianko to the plate, and Owsianko’s fly ball to left center field secured Southington’s second American Legion state title. The Ellington outfielder went after the ball, but lost his footing and the ball fell in. Panaraella and Cooney scored to give Southington a 7-6 victory and their first state title in 25 years.

“Off the bat, I saw it go and I was hoping it would just go over the left fielder’s head, or that he just wouldn’t make a remarkable catch,” Owsianko said. “It was awesome to finally see it go down and see Cooney score the winning run.”

Cooney slid into home plate, then Southington players, coaches and fans erupted in celebration.

“We’ve been working for this for so long,” Cooney said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment my entire life, the first championship I’ve ever won in baseball, and it’s something we’re going to remember for a long, long while.”

Owsianko was the focus of the wild celebration that ensued after Cooney scored. He slid onto the infield grass before being swarmed by his teammates.

“When I saw [Cooney] rounding third, all I could think about was throwing my helmet and getting ready for the dog pile that I knew was coming after we won it,” Owsianko said.

Southington came from behind three different times against a determined Ellington squad. Post 72 took a 2-0 lead on Jeremy Mercier’s homer in the first, and a Dan Topper RBI double in the second inning that scored Dylan Chiaro, but Ellington scored four times in the top of the fifth to go up 4-2.

Southington answered with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game. With one out, Brandon Kohl walked, then Cooney ripped a double to right center that went through the temporary fencing, sending Kohl back to third and Cooney back to second. Kohl scored on a passed ball with Owsianko at the plate, then Owsianko lifted a sacrifice fly to bring Cooney in with the tying run.

Ellington again took the lead in the sixth, this time at 5-4, but Post 72 scratched out another run in the bottom frame to tie the game at 5-5. Topper singled with two outs, which brought Mercier to the plate. The outfield was playing deep on Mercier, and he dunked a short fly ball into center that sent Topper all the way to third base. Panarella grounded to third, but the throw to first base was dropped, which allowed Topper to score and tie the game.

Ellington went ahead 6-5 in the top of the eighth on a bases loaded walk against reliever Justin Verrilli, but Verrilli got a called third strike for the inning’s second out. A fly ball to Chiaro in right ended the threat, then Southington pulled off its greatest rally of the season in the bottom of the eighth. Verrilli, who threw 1 2/3 innings in relief of Ryan Henderson, was the winning pitcher.

“We came back, this team’s got heart, and I love these kids,” Verderame said.

Mercier, who homered Sunday for Southington’s first run, was named the tournament MVP. In his last three games, all at Ceppa Field, Mercier went 5-for-11 with eight RBI. He had a grand slam against Cheshire and a bases-clearing double in the first game against Ellington to go along with the solo homer that he hit Sunday. Mercier also picked up the win against Cheshire and pitched 6 2/3 innings in relief in the 5-0, 13-inning marathon.

“It just feels really good

to contribute to my team, do the best I can to help us win,” Mercier said.

Henderson was named the tournament’s top pitcher. He pitched the first 6 1/3 innings on Sunday and gave up five runs, though four of them were unearned. Henderson threw 5 2/3 innings of five-hit ball and was the winning pitcher in a 4-0 victory over Cheshire in the Super Regional.

“It’s crazy, I pitched crazy, I got a great team behind me,” said Henderson, who was surprised when he was announced as the top pitcher. “I don’t know, I can’t even take it in right now.”

Mercier and Henderson were named to the 19U All-Tournament team, along with Topper, Jake Romano, Tyler Cyr and Nick Borkowski.

Players and coaches hoist the American Legion baseball state championship banner after a sweep of the Connecticut state finals. (Photo by Kevin Roberts)

Finals—Game One

AUG. 3—Game one was just as difficult, and Southington needed to pull off one of its patented comebacks to beat Ellington 3-2 in the opener at Ceppa Field.

Ellington picked up the game’s first run in the bottom of the first inning on a sacrifice fly from Kevin Smith. It could have been much more, but Chiaro chased the ball down in right center field and made a nice running catch.

Ellington went ahead 2-0 in the bottom of the third on another RBI from Smith, this time on a fielder’s choice. For the second time, Smith drove in Dakota Aldrich, who doubled in both at bats.

Southington’s response came in the top of the fourth. Josh Panarella reached on an infield error to lead off the frame. Kohl walked, then another infield error allowed Brayden Cooney to reach to load the bases.

There was no place to put Mercier, and he took full advantage when he smashed a bases-clearing double to the fence in left center field to put Post 72 on top 3-2.

“We were down 2-0, just looking to get runners on base, move them across,” Mercier said. “I came up bases loaded no outs, trying to drive something, just get a run across. I just found a good pitch.”

“You talk about the stuff of legends, and Jeremy Mercier, he’s been playing legendary,” coach Marc Verderame said. “The other night with the grand slam. Comes up here, bases loaded. Boom, to the wall, three-run double. He’s unbelievable, he’s got absolutely no pulse in these situations.”

In the bottom of the fourth, Kohl and company wiped out an Ellington rally with one of the best plays of the season. With a runner on first and one out, Ellington’s Ryan Decker ripped a line drive toward the left center field gap. The ball seemed destined for an extra-base hit and a tie game, but Kohl made an amazing diving catch. Kohl got up quickly and fired to the cutoff man, second baseman Danny Topper, who threw to Cooney at first base to complete the double play.

“It’s unbelievable,” Mercier said of the catch. “[Kohl is] a hell of an athlete. That’s becoming a regular catch for him. Ever since we were 13 I’ve been playing with him, and I can remember him doing things like that.”

“It sparked us, and it was a hell of a play,” Verderame said.

Nick Borkowski twirled back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth, then worked around a one-out single in the seventh to finish off a complete game. Borkowski gave up two runs (one earned) on seven hits, struck out two and walked one. The win set the stage for a Southington sweep on Aug. 4 and a state championship.

Super Regional win

JULY 31—Before Southington Post 72 could win its second-ever Legion state title, it had to reach the championship game.

Tournament MVP Mercier used his right arm and one big swing of the bat to propel Southington into the best-of-three final series.

After 12 scoreless innings against Cheshire in the Southern Division Super Regional final on July 31 at Ceppa Field in Meriden, Post 72 finally scratched across the game’s first run. Cyr (two hits) led off with a single, then Topper walked. Cheshire got the next two Southington batters out, but Brandon Kohl walked to load the bases. Brayden Cooney drew a bases loaded walk to score Cyr for a 1-0 lead, and the next batter was Mercier.

Mercier swung and missed at the first pitch, but his next swing was one that will go down in Southington Legion lore. Mercier ripped an inside fastball over the left field wall for a grand slam and a 5-0 lead.

“I was seeing fastballs well,” Mercier said. “…I was looking for a good pitch to hit and drive one.”

Mercier, who had already pitched 5 2/3 innings in relief, slammed the door shut in the bottom of the 13th with a 1-2-3 frame. A fly ball to Chiaro in right was bookended by two strikeouts. Jason Krar started for Southington and pitched a scoreless inning with one hit and one walk. Ryan Sheehan came on next and battled his way through 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Sheehan walked eight, but struck out six and didn’t allow a hit. Mercier struck out 10, walked three, and yielded just two hits.

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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