By KEVIN ROBERTS
The American Legion state tournament will test a team’s mental toughness and ability to handle adversity. Southington Post 72 faced plenty of adversity in both of its state tournament games last weekend, and it came away with comeback victories in both outing.
Southington outlasted Trumbull 5-4 at Southington High School last Saturday, then used a five-run eruption in the top of the seventh inning to take down Hamden 8-4 last Sunday at Hamden High School.
Southington was 2-0 in Pod E and one win away from clinching a berth in the Southern Division “Super Regional,” which starts Saturday at Ceppa Field in Meriden. They were scheduled to play the winner of Hamden and Trumbull on Wednesday. That winner would have to beat Post 72 twice to go to the super regional.
“We’re ultra-confident, because we’re never out of the game because we have another pitcher,” head coach Marc Verderame said after the Hamden win.
Post 72’s starting pitchers, Ryan Sheehan against Trumbull and Jason Krar against Hamden, struggled out of the gate. That’s where Southington’s pitching depth took over.
“[July 21] it was Ryan Henderson keeping us in the game,” Verderame said. “[July 22] it was Jake Weed keeping us in the game. I said ‘Hey Jake keep us in the game, we’ll find a way,’ and we did.”
Henderson threw four innings of three-hit shutout ball in relief of Sheehan for the win against Trumbull. Weed came on in the fourth in relief of Krar in the Hamden game and tossed three innings of one-run ball to pick up the victory. After Southington took the lead in the top of the seventh inning, Nick Borkowski pitched the bottom of the seventh for the save.
Here’s what happened in each game:
First Round win
JULY 21—Trumbull jumped ahead of Southington 1-0 in the top of the first on a walk and two singles. Ryan Sheehan got a comebacker for the first out of the frame, then struck out the next two batters to escape any further damage.
Southington scored three runs in the bottom of the first to go ahead 3-1. Josh Panarella’s RBI single scored Danny Topper, then Brayden Cooney’s booming two-run triple brought in Panarella and Brandon Kohl, who had also singled.
Trumbull struck back for three runs and a 4-3 lead in the top of the third against a frustrated Sheehan. One run scored on a single, followed later by a pair of bases loaded walks.
Southington took the lead back in the bottom of the third with two runs. Chiaro led off with a single, then Panarella doubled to put runners on second and third. Kohl singled to drive in Chiaro and tie the game at 4-4. Romano later had a sacrifice fly to score Panarella and put Post 72 ahead 5-4.
Henderson made sure the lead stayed where it was after he entered the game to begin the fourth inning.
“One thing I tell these guys is if you like baseball, this is it,” Verderame said. “All tournament, all season we’ve had adversity. [July 21], we were down in the first inning, we were down in the third inning, and every time, we came back.”
Panarella and Kohl each had two hits to lead the Southington offense. Panarella also scored two runs, and Cooney had two RBI.
Henderson gave up three hits and struck out one on an efficient 41 pitches over four innings.
Second Round win
JULY 22—With gray skies above the turf field of Hamden High School, the hosts scored three times in the bottom of the third inning for a 3-0 lead.
Southington responded immediately with two runs in the top of the fourth. Brandon Kohl smacked a one-out double, then Brayden Cooney hammered an RBI triple to the fence in right field to bring home Post 72’s first run. Aneesh Avancha later singled home Cooney to make the score 3-2.
Southington tied the game 3-3 in the top of the sixth on an RBI groundout from Danny Topper. Hamden took the lead back, 4-3, in the bottom of the sixth on Tyler Osborne’s RBI triple.
Southington’s response in the top of the seventh was swift. Josh Panarella smoked a double down the left field line, then Kohl reached on an infield single deep at third base. A single to center by Cooney loaded the bases for Jake Romano, who deposited a single into right center to score Panarella and Kohl for a 5-4 lead.
“We got to execute in this game,” Verderame said. “We talked about it, we preached it, and in that last inning, we executed really well.”
Avancha lifted a sacrifice fly the other way to right field to score Cooney to make the score 6-4, then Tyler Cyr added another sac fly to score Romano and make it 7-4. When Topper’s grounder was mishandled at second, Jeremy Mercier scored and Post 72’s lead was 8-4.
Hamden got the leadoff batter on in the last of the seventh, but Borkowski struck out the next batter, then got a grounder to Romano at short. It was 6-4-3, Romano to Topper to Cooney to end the game.
“I’ve got to give the hats off to my guys for showing heart,” Verderame said. “I’m proud of them.”
Avancha led Southington with three hits and drove in two runs. Panarella, Kohl, Cooney and Mercier each had two hits with Romano, Avancha and Topper all collecting two RBI. Kohl and Cooney each scored two runs.
Weed gave up one run on three hits and walked one batter on 42 pitches in three innings. Borkowski struck out one batter and threw just six pitches.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com.