By KEVIN ROBERTS
Southington baseball eked four one-run victories to reach the Class LL championship game against Staples this past Saturday at Middletown’s Palmer Field.
The third-seeded Blue Knights ran out of magic in the final, however, and lost 3-0 to the No. 5 Wreckers.
“We had a hell of a year,” junior center fielder Andrew Paradis said. “A lot of people didn’t even expect us to make it past the first round after what went down. These [seniors] are like brothers to me, I’m going to miss playing with them, but we had a great year.”
It was the last game in the blue and white for seniors Bryce Worth, Tyler Strong, Jake Romano, Nico Gaudio, Jason Krar, J.T. Martin, Brendan Kavanagh, Kyle Leifert and Ryan Henderson.
Staples senior Chad Knight, the Gatorade Player of the Year in the state, fired a complete game and allowed just three hits, singles to Jack Meade, Jake DelMonte and Worth. Knight struck out 10, walked two and threw 98 pitches, including 71 for strikes.
“He was tough, he was mixing it up,” Paradis said. “He had a good curveball, and he also threw pretty hard. And he was locating well all game. He’s a good pitcher.”
Staples scored one run in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. Kevin Rabacs drove in pinch runner Buck Lewis with a sacrifice fly in the fourth. The Wreckers scored a run in the fifth on a throwing error, then added one more in the sixth on a wild pitch.
Southington got back-to-back singles from Meade and DelMonte to start the bottom of the first inning, but no runs were scored.
“We were hoping to get something there. It was early, it was the first inning,” coach Charlie Lembo said. “Andrew is our three-hitter, we’re going to let him swing away there. We didn’t come out with anything. We battled, we battled all game, and actually, we just made too many mistakes. That’s what it comes down to.”
Jake Neuman and Romano drew back-to-back walks to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning. A fielder’s choice, strikeout and grounder to second ended the last Southington rally. The state final loss couldn’t take away from the run the Knights (21-4) went on to get there.
“It’s been absolutely fantastic. I’ve loved spending every minute with these guys on this team,” Lembo said. “We told them, we said ‘listen guys, you’ve done everything we’ve asked, you’ve put all in the hard work, all year long, not just during the baseball season, but when we started conditioning at the beginning of the school year.’”
Southington reached its first state final since 2014 by beating nemesis and No. 10 seed Amity Regional 3-2 in the semifinal on June 4 at Waterbury’s Municipal Stadium. Neuman’s double in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Paradis with the game-winning run. Neuman (6-0) was also the winning pitcher. He fired a complete game and gave up two runs on seven hits. Neuman struck out five and walked three on 107 pitches (64 strikes). Neuman and Billy Carr (walk, run scored) each had two hits against Amity.
Meade led off the seventh with a walk. DelMonte sacrificed Meade to second, but Meade was forced out at third on a grounder to shortstop by Paradis. That brought up Neuman with two outs and Paradis on first. Neuman worked the count to 3-2, then blasted a fastball over the right fielder’s head. It was the third time Southington had won on a walk-off hit, and ironically, the third time Paradis had scored the winning run.
“I knew it was over his head,” said Neuman about his second double of the game. “I wasn’t sure if Andrew was going to get home, but once I looked when I was turning around first, and I saw him, it was an awesome feeling.”
The Knights scored the game’s first two runs in the second inning on bases-loaded walks by Worth and Meade. Amity picked up single runs in the fifth and sixth innings to tie the game at 2-2, but all that did was set up more Southington heroics.
“I was joking with my AD the other day, I said it’s like chunky peanut butter going through my veins at this point, with all these close games,” Lembo said. “But I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com