By KEVIN ROBERTS
The Southington Post 72 American Legion baseball team arrived in Worcester early last week for its second straight appearance in the Northeast Regional.
Southington went 2-2 in its 2018 appearance, but it had bigger goals in mind for the 2019 trip. Post 72 wanted to win the regional and advance to the World Series in Shelby, N.C. Southington took some chances along the way, using its full array of pitchers to give itself the best chance to win.
Post 72’s dream of a regional championship ended too soon, however, when it was eliminated in a tough 5-3 loss to Cumberland’s Upper Deck Post 14, the Rhode Island state champion, on Aug. 9 at Hanover Insurance Park at Fitton Field.
Southington’s season concluded with a 24-11 record, including a 1-2 mark at the regional.
“That’s a tough loss, kind of the story of our season. Close games, just losing the close ones,” coach Marc Verderame said. “Bad break here, bad call there, and that’s adversity. We try and teach baseball, we try and teach life around here, too. Going forward, these guys have been through adversity. It’s going to serve them well in life.”
Southington lost its first game of the regional, 4-3 to Vermont champion Brattleboro Post 5 on Aug. 7. Post 72 rallied for their lone win of the regional, a 5-3 victory against Maine champion Hampden Post 213, on Aug. 8.
In the game against Cumberland, Southington carried a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. Post 14 scored five times in the frame, including two runs on a tough error and two more on bases loaded walks. Post 72 got a run back in the top of the seventh inning and was looking for more, but it wasn’t meant to be.
“We got out there, we got the tying run on second base, chance to tie it with [Jeremy] Mercier up. That’s all you can ask for, it just didn’t go our way,” Verderame said. “I’m proud of the fight, we got here to regionals for the second straight year, this program has been solidified, and it’s all because of those guys.”
Here’s what happened during Post 72’s week at the regional:
Brattleboro (VT) 4, Southington 3
AUG. 7—Post 72 took a two-run lead in the top of the first inning, but that lead only lasted until the bottom of the second.
Post 5 scored two runs in the second inning and two more in the fourth to go ahead 4-2. Southington pulled to within 4-3 with a run in the fifth inning, but would get no closer to the Vermont state champion.
Jason Krar was the losing pitcher for Post 72. Krar started the game and pitched 3.1 innings. He gave up four runs (three earned) on eight hits, struck out one and hit two. It was the last game pitching for Krar, who enlisted in the Army and reports to basic training in Fort Sill, Okla., on Sept. 3.
Nick Borkowski threw 2.2 innings of scoreless relief with one hit allowed to go along with two strikeouts.
Sean Crean led the offense for Southington, going 2-for-4 with a single, double, stolen base and two runs scored. Josh Panarella drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Kyle Leifert singled and scored a run, Aneesh Avancha doubled and walked, and Brendan Kavanagh added a single.
Both Post 72 runs in the first inning scored on a throwing error. Post 5 evened the game at 2-2 in the second inning, then claimed a 4-2 advantage in the fourth. Southington pulled to within 4-3 in the fifth inning on Panarella’s sacrifice fly, which scored Crean. Post 72 left the tying run on base in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
It was the second straight year that Southington its Northeast Regional opener to the Vermont state champion. In 2018, Post 72 lost 4-1 to Essex Post 91.
Southington 6, Hampden (ME) 2
AUG. 8—Leifert’s two-out, bases-clearing triple in the top of the sixth inning put Post 72 ahead 5-2, and they added a run in the seventh for the final margin.
“I’m just thinking about the guys we’ve been playing for this year. We’ve got this giant Madden tournament at the hotel, I’m making a lot of money off of that, and I just don’t want that to end,” Leifert said with a grin. “It just [stinks] that I didn’t get the opportunity in high school, and it was nice to win it for these boys. I love all of them. Nothing’s been dropping all week, it was fun to just see one hit the grass for once.”
Ethan McDonough (two runs scored) got the rally going with a two-out single.
“Ethan McDonough with two outs, nobody on, hustles out that base hit, and we end up getting three that inning with Kyle Leifert,” Verderame said. “It’s just the way we live. We live on the edge, and we’re on to tomorrow.”
Connor Patenaude (three walks) drew a walk, then Crean was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Leifert smacked the first pitch over the Hampden right fielder’s ahead, and all three runs came in to score. Patenaude’s bases-loaded walk in the seventh scored Panarella for a 6-2 lead.
Crean finished 2-for-3 with a walk, hit by pitch, stolen base and two runs scored. Mercier was 2-for-4 with an RBI while Leifert drove in four runs in the game.
Kavanagh was terrific in relief of starter Jake Weed for Southington. He pitched six innings and gave up one hit to go along with three strikeouts and two walks.
“I always believe in my guys, so I was just trying to pump strikes and get outs,” Kavanagh said. “The goal was just outs, I wasn’t thinking about K’ing kids, trying to overpower them. Just get outs.”
Justin Verrilli got the last two outs to finish the game.
“We took some chances today, we rolled the dice, we’re here to win,” Verderame said. “Went with Weed, went with Kavanagh, trying to save our guys. We rolled the dice, we’re gamblers here, and they made me look good.”
Verderame continued: “We got down 2-0, and it wasn’t looking good at first, but Kavanagh came through. Brendan Kavanagh, next guy up, pitched unbelievable.”
Kavanagh escaped a second and third, one-out jam in the bottom of the fifth inning. He got a grounder to Mercier at third, who threw to Panarella at the plate to get the runner trying to score. With first and third and two outs, Kavanagh got a called third strike to end the threat.
“That was awesome. Pan set up outside, I don’t know what the count was, but we had two strikes,” Kavanagh said. “He set up outside, I flamed the fastball in, got him on the outside corner. It was sweet.”
Cumberland 5, Southington 3
AUG. 9—Post 72 scored a run in the top of the second inning and another in the third to lead 2-0.
Romano doubled with one out in the top of the second inning, advanced to third on an Avancha single, then scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead. In the third, Leifert singled, then Mercier doubled to deep left center field to score Leifert for a 2-0 advantage.
The two-run lead held until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Post 14 rallied for five runs. After the first out was recorded, Cumberland got a single and three straight walks to scratch across the first run. Southington and its supporters felt that the strike zone had become much more constricted in the fateful sixth inning. Starter Ryan Henderson was at 101 pitches, and Verderame visited the mound.
“I went out there, I looked him in the eye, I said you’re at 101, do you want this guy? He said yes, did the job,” Verderame said. “A little ground ball to third, didn’t bounce our way. He pitched great, it wasn’t on him. A couple bad calls here and there, but that’s adversity, that’s life.”
Shane Calabro bounced a ball right on the third baseline to Mercier. It was too close to tell whether the ball would stay fair or roll foul, Mercier went after it, and the ball got past him. Two runs scored, and Post 14 had a 3-2 lead. Mercier replaced Henderson, but a hit by pitch and walk brought in another run. A sacrifice fly to center field scored the final Cumberland run.
Southington could have just packed it in, but it didn’t. Avancha led off with a walk, then McDonough singled. After a fly out for the first out, Crean (two hits) singled home Avancha. Crean stole second base, but Leifert was called out looking at strike three. A groundout to third ended the game and the Post 72 season.
“The way we came together as a squad, we made a lot of memories together, memories that they’re never going to forget and I’m never going to forget,” Verderame said. “We’ve had so much success together, I’m going to miss them, I’m going to miss coaching them, I’m never going to forget them. I told them, this is a blood kinship, we’ve won together, we’re a family, and we’re going to move forward together in life.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Kevin Roberts, email him at KRoberts@SouthingtonObserver.com