By KEVIN ROBERTS
For the second time in as many American Legion state tournament games, Jake Romano was at bat at John J. Fontana Field with the bases loaded.
The first opportunity against Niantic this past Saturday didn’t go so well, with Romano grounding into a 5-2-3 double play. Up again with the bases loaded against Berlin in the first inning this past Sunday, Romano cleared them with a double to give Southington a quick 3-0 lead.
“That’s baseball, he had the same opportunity yesterday, didn’t cash in,” coach Marc Verderame said. “Today, same situation, bases loaded, he hits a three-run double. That’s how you come back.”
Brandon Kohl immediately followed with a two-run home run to left field to put Post 72 up 5-0.
“Romano came up big with the three-run double, Brandon Kohl a two-run homer, and it was lights out from there,” Verderame said.
Southington won each of its first two “Pod C” games of the American Legion state tournament, coming back to beat Niantic 4-3 last Saturday before pounding Berlin 11-1 over 4.5 innings this past Sunday. Post 72 found themselves a game away from advancing to the Northern Division Super Regional at Rotary Field in South Windsor.
Southington needed to win one of two games on Wednesday at Fontana Field against the winner of Tuesday’s RCP/Berlin elimination game to move on. Should Post 72 advance, Super Regional play would begin on Saturday in South Windsor.
Here’s what happened last week:
Southington 4, Niantic 3
JULY 20—Post 72 trailed Post 128 by a run entering the bottom of the sixth inning of a hot afternoon game at Fontana Field.
Southington scored twice in that sixth inning to overtake Niantic for the win. Ethan McDonough rapped a pinch-hit, two-run single to right field to drive in Brandon Kohl and Connor Patenaude.
“That’s a kid, he struggled earlier in the year,” Verderame said. “He kept fighting, I told the guys on the bench be ready for a spot. [Tyler] Strong was struggling a little bit, I looked at Ethan and said you’re going to be up in a big spot, and he came up huge for us.”
Ryan Henderson stranded two runners in the top of the seventh inning to close out the win. He pitched 2.1 innings in relief of Jason Krar and gave up two hits and two walks to go along with a strikeout. Henderson was the winning pitcher.
“He’s always lights out. At that point, you try to set up a rotation in these playoffs,” Verderame said. “Krar, kept him at 80 [pitches] so he’d be available on Wednesday if needed, but we got to go for the win. [John] Fontana said go for the win. They rested their ace, we threw two of ours, Hendo shut them down and got the win.”
Krar threw the first 4.2 innings, gave up three runs on five hits and struck out seven.
Kohl finished the game with a hit by pitch, walk, three stolen bases and two runs scored. Patenaude singled, walked, stole a base and scored a run while Aneesh Avancha walked twice, stole a base and scored a run. Post 72 finished with just four hits in the game, all singles.
Southington 11, Berlin 1 (5 innings)
JULY 21—Romano and Kohl got Post 72 off to a 5-0 start in the first inning, and the home side never looked back against Post 68 at Fontana Field.
Brendan Kavanagh doubled home Patenaude to conclude the scoring in a six-run first for Southington. That was all starter Nick Borkowski needed. He pitched the first four innings and gave up two hits. Borkowski struck out three and threw just 38 pitches on the way to the win.
“That’s the great thing about Nick. For three years, he’s been Mr. Reliable,” Verderame said. “He throws strikes, he’s pitched in some of our biggest games. He goes out there, pounds the zone, and when we got six for him, we knew we were in good shape. Nick’s been our guy, and he did a great job today.”
Justin Verrilli gave up a run on two hits and a walk in the fifth inning in relief of Borkowski.
An overthrow into center field by the catcher on a steal attempt of second base allowed McDonough to score from third and make it 7-0 in the second inning. Southington scored four runs in the third inning to go ahead 11-0, including two on a double by Will Marshall. McDonough drove in a run with a single, and Patenaude sent one home on a walk.
“I’m proud of the guys. They came in, I wanted to end it early, don’t give them any hope,” Verderame said. “We kind of gave [Niantic] hope yesterday. I said let’s not make it fun for [Berlin], and we didn’t.”
Jeremy Mercier (double) was the lone Post 72 batter with two hits, though the home team did finish the game with 10.
Regular season wrap-up
JULY 15—The regular season finale went back and forth for the first three innings before Post 84 took the lead for good with three runs in the fourth at Southington High.
Post 72 trailed 8-6 entering the bottom of the fifth inning. Southington scored a run in the fifth, but would get no closer in the regular season finale at Fontana Field. Kyle Leifert went 2-for-4 with a double, run scored and two RBI for Post 72. He was the lone batter with multiple hits for Southington, which left 10 on base. Henderson started and lost for the first time this season (3-1).
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com