The St. Joseph baseball team stepped onto the field at Harbor Yard Tuesday night looking to punch its ticket to a state championship game.
What the fourth-seeded Cadets got instead was nothing short of a nightmare.
Haddam-Killingworth exploded for 14 runs over the first two innings, spraying line drives hard-hit balls all over the field, rolling to a 15-6 victory in the second game of a Class M state tournament semifinal double-header in Bridgeport.
The Cougars scored eight runs in the top of the first inning on a walk, one hit batter and seven hits, sending 12 batters to the plate. St. Joseph starter Stanley Wolpiuk left the game after recording just one out.
Before the Cadets could even think about staging a comeback, Haddam-Killingworth tacked on six more runs in the second to take a 14-1 lead, sending 10 more batters to the plate while collecting six more hits.
Jamie Brown, who relieved Wolpiuk with one out in the first inning, lasted only eight batters into the second.
The Cougars, who will meet No. 11 Plainville in the Class M championship game Friday at 7 p.m. at Palmer Field in Middletown, finished with 16 hits. Other than a bunt single in the first inning by centerfielder Andrew Mead, all of them were hit hard.
“I guess we just walked into a buzzsaw,” St. Joseph head coach Jim Chaves said. “I’ve played in a lot of games and coached in a lot of games and I’ve never seen a team score eight runs in the first inning then back it up with six in the second. I don’t think we gave them anything. Whatever they got, they earned it.”
Ironically enough, Haddam-Killingworth is a team that likes to run and play small ball, losing three one-run games during the regular season. Once they reached the state tournament, the Cougars evolved into one long murderer’s row, scoring 42 runs in four playoff games.
Senior third-baseman Wesley Nuhn, also one of the team’s top pitchers, had a career in the first two innings, collecting a triple, double, walk, four RBIs and two runs scored in three plate appearances.
That was the norm for HK, which had five different players collect two hits over the first two innings. Everyone in the lineup finished with at least one hit.
“Someone asked me if we hit the ball like that all the time after we scored 17 runs against Wolcott, and I said no,” Cougars head coach Mark Brooks said. “I’ll take it when it comes, but it’s just not our style. Something just clicked once we got into the tournament, as if all the things we’ve been teaching came to pass. It was like a big light bulb went off.”
St. Joseph, which finished with a 19-5 overall record, did have its share of positives. Liam Fitzgerald, the third player to take the mound for the Cadets, quieted the HK bats over the final five innings, allowing just one run on three hits over that span.
“I thought Liam did an excellent job,” Chaves said. “For a senior to go out there and be able to compete like that, it was nice to see.”
St. Joseph never quit, scoring three runs in the third and single runs in the fourth and fifth. Sophomore third-baseman Mark Hirschbeck went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, senior first-baseman
Jonathan Vazquez added two hits and one RBI and leadoff batter Matt Batten had a single, two walks and two RBIs.
Batten also played a stellar defensive game at shortstop, including a number of dazzling assists.
The Cadets just couldn’t shake the rough start.
“I wish I could explain it,” Chaves said. “It was just a really freaky thing that happened here tonight. It was the worst possible time for it to happen.”
Jake DeCarli (10-2) picked up the win with a complete game effort for the Cougars, scattering seven hits with nine strikeouts and seven walks, but it came at a cost.
“He threw way too many pitches,” Brookes said. “Jake has thrown much better than he did tonight.”
Plainville 11, Weston 4
The Weston baseball team had just finished scoring four runs over the first two innings of Tuesday afternoon’s Class M state tournament semifinal against Plainville when head coach Frank Fedeli walked toward the dugout and implored his team to keep the pedal stuck to the floor.
“It’s not enough,” Fedeli said. “It’s not enough.”
Sure enough, Fedeli was right.
Trailing 4-1 heading into the top of the third, No. 11 Plainville exploded for five runs on six hits and one critical infield error and never stopped pounding the ball en route to a 11-4 victory over No. 10 Weston in a battle of two unexpected semifinalists at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport.
Plainville (17-7), which advanced to its first state championship game since winning the Class M title in 2008, tacked on four runs in the sixth and another in the seventh and finished with 14 hits against three Weston pitchers.
“We always go up there with a lot of confidence,” Plainville head coach Lou Mandeville said. “Our guys believe they can hit at any time, no matter the count or how many outs. We always go up there looking to swing the bats.”
Weston scored two runs in each of the first two innings against Plainville starter Brian Dostater, but the Blue Devils handed the ball to ace righty Matt Thomas in the third and the Trojans managed just three hits and no runs the rest of the day.
That ended a storybook run for Weston (16-7), which finished with the longest state tournament run in school history.
Weston had never reached the semifinals before this season.
“Before I got here this program had just one state tournament win,” Fedeli said. “So just to get here and have a shot at going to a state championship game is great. It’s just one of those things.”
Weston looked like it was in complete control behind sophomore righty Asher Lee-Tyson and a scrappy offense that put up two runs in the first on a double by St. John’s-bound junior Charlie Ameer and an RBI-single by Jimmy Sanzone, and two more in the second on a single by Austin Delaney and consecutive RBI-singles by junior Justin Resnick and catcher Ethan Lee-Tyson (2-for-4). Resnick went 3-for-3 with a double out of the No. 9 spot in the batting order.
But Plainville stole the momentum with its five-run third inning explosion and never lost control.
“I felt good leading 4-1, but that one inning killed us,” Fedeli said. “There were a couple of balls they hit that could have been outs. It’s really a game of inches. If we play them again, I think things could be different. Take nothing away from them. They hit the crap out of the ball. But we were one or two plays away from getting out of that inning cheap.”
Planville received a solid performance on both sides of the dish from Thomas, who picked up the win in relief and went 3-for-3 with five RBIs and two runs scored. Thomas, now 4-2 with five no decisions, got out of a two-on, no-out jam in the third and allowed just three hits with four strikeouts and three walks over four innings.
“I knew I was bringing him in, it was just a question of when,” Mandeville said. “When I did it, I knew it was the time to bring him in.”
Sidearming right-hander Tyler Favreau pitched a scoreless seventh for the Blue Devils.
Thomas had a sacrifice fly in the first to bring in Plainville’s first run, tied the game 4-4 in the third with a three-run triple, doubled in the fifth then brought home another run with an RBI-single in the sixth.
“He just battles,” Mandeville said. “He’s just a competitor. Any situations he’s in, he’s just battling on. He’ll fight till the end.”
Plainville has a solid pedigree having appeared in 10 state championship games while winning seven. This one had Mandeville feeling a bit emotional after it was over because of the unexpected nature of it.
“This is a big surprise for us,” Mandeville said. “No one knew what we were going to get out of this season.”
Weston fell just short, but earned Mandeville’s respect in the process.
“They’re a good ball club,” he said. “They had never made it this far before but they have a lot to be proud of. That’s a really good team over there.”