By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington Post 72 found itself one win away from a berth in the best-of-three American Legion state championship series after three wins last week.
Southington needed to win one of two games against Waterford on either Tuesday or Wednesday at Rotary Field in South Windsor in the super regional round to move on.
For the second straight postseason, Post 72 has made some magic happen in the late innings. In a 3-2 win over RCP on July 25 in the Pod “C” final, it was Jeremy Mercier’s walk-off double in the seventh that sent Southington into the super regional. In the first game of super regional play in South Windsor on July 27, Jake Romano’s two-run single in the top of the seventh inning gave Post 72 a 4-1 cushion against Waterford.
The biggest heroics of all came against Bristol on July 28. Post 2 starter Jagger Duquette kept Post 72 off the board for the first six innings. Southington entered the top of the seventh inning trailing 2-0, but erupted for five runs and wound up winning 5-2. Sean Crean’s RBI single tied the game at 2-2. Crean stole second and third, then scored on an error for the lead. Josh Panarella followed with a two-run home run to give Post 72 a 5-2 cushion.
“This team has heart,” coach Marc Verderame said. “You have to finish the champ, and they didn’t. We are feeling great right now, but there’s more work to be done. We’re ready for battle.”
Here’s what happened last week:
Southington 5, Bristol 2
JULY 28—For the first six innings, it looked like Post 72 was headed for a next-day elimination game.
Southington didn’t want any part of an elimination game, and Aneesh Avancha started the top of the seventh inning with a double. After a fly out, Ethan McDonough drove in pinch runner Tyler Strong with a double to make the score 2-1 in favor of Bristol. Crean followed with the game-tying single, but Post 72 didn’t stop there.
Crean stole second and third, then scored the go-ahead run with two outs on an infield error off a ball hit by Kyle Leifert. Panarella followed with his two-run blast to left field for a stunning 5-2 Southington lead. In the bottom of the seventh, Mercier picked up his second save of the week. He struck out one and walked one.
“Our guys came up huge in the seventh, and Josh Panarella put the dagger in,” Verderame said.
The rally made a winner out of the starter Jason Krar, who pitched the first six innings. He gave up two runs on six hits, struck out two and walked two. Bristol scored a run in the first and another in the fifth to build its 2-0 lead.
“I’m so proud of Jason Krar, keeping us in the game and pitching his heart out in what could have been his last game of his career before the Army,” Verderame said.
Krar will be attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Leifert (double), Mercier and Connor Patenaude each had two hits in the game.
Southington 4, Waterford 1
JULY 27—Post 72 pitchers Nick Borkowski and Mercier kept Post 112 to a single run over six innings, then Romano’s two-run single put the game away in the top of the seventh.
“We were aggressive today offensively,” Verderame said. “Our game plan today was to try and make things happen, steal some bases, put the pressure on them.”
Leifert had a double, stolen base and run scored to lead the way on offense. Patenaude doubled and drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Brandon Kohl also doubled for Southington.
Post 72 scored single runs in the first and fourth innings. Leifert’s RBI double in the first scored Crean, who reached base in all four of his plate appearances (single, walk, hit by pitch, error). In the fourth, Romano led off with a walk, then went from first to third on Avancha’s single. Patenaude’s sacrifice fly scored Romano and made the score 2-0. Waterford scored its lone run in the bottom of the fourth inning to cut the Southington lead to 2-1, but Borkowski made sure no more crossed.
“Nick Borkowski was phenomenal, he’s been phenomenal for three years and he came out here today and gave us a great opportunity to win,” Verderame said. “I’m extremely proud of all that he’s done for us.”
Borkowski gave up a run on three hits over 5.2 innings. He struck out six and walked two. Mercier allowed a single hit over 1.1 innings to pick up his first of two saves on the week.
Southington 3, RCP 2
JULY 25—Post 72 saw a 2-0 lead disappear in the top of the seventh inning, but found a way to win in walk-off fashion in the bottom of the frame. The win at John J. Fontana Field sent Southington on to the super regional round.
“It’s exciting to get back to the super regional,” Verderame said. “I’m proud of my squad. We built this team for the playoffs to win rings. That’s all we care about. It’s what we live for, but I will tell you that we have a lot of fun in the process.”
Crean reached on an error to lead off the seventh, then Mercier whacked a double into the right center field gap. Crean came all the way around to score, and Southington celebrated a big victory.
“Mercier has no pulse. He’s proven time and again that he’s one of the most clutch players in Southington baseball history,” Verderame said. “He gave us one more thrill. Hopefully he isn’t done yet.”
Ryan Henderson shut RCP down for the first six innings. He allowed just two hits, struck out five and walked one.
“Henderson was unbelievable,” Verderame said. “He’s been my guy for two years now. He’s used to these big games. The kid doesn’t feel pressure, he’s an all-timer.”
Southington gave Henderson a two-run cushion in the very first inning. Mercier reached on an error, then Leifert walked. Panarella singled Mercier home for a 1-0 lead, then Romano drove in Leifert with a sacrifice fly.
Krar was on for the seventh, but gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits in the frame as RCP evened the game at 2-2. An error with one out helped Post 105 keep their rally going, and the visitors tied the game on a two-run single by Brett Thiverge. Krar wound up being the winning pitcher when Post 72 rallied for the walk-off victory. Krar struck out one and walked one.
Mercier and Panarella both had two hits in the game. Mercier tallied a run scored and stolen base.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com