MERIDEN — Cheshire Post 92 has shown the knack for high drama plenty of times already in the 2019 American Legion state tournament. The Zone 3 champs walked off on Danbury and Stratford en route to taking Pod E last week.
That old walk-off magic, however, deserted top-seeded Cheshire in the first round of the Southern Division Super Regional on Saturday afternoon at Ceppa Field.
Locked in a scoreless tie with fourth-seeded Naugatuck, Post 92 tried to squeeze home the winning run in the bottom of the seventh after Ryan Strollo doubled to lead off and was sacrificed to third. The squeeze bunt was missed, however, and Strollo was tagged out at the plate.
Naugatuck carried the momentum into the eighth innings, plating two runs on a walk and three singles — two of which never left the infield.
No matter. They were effective, and with reliever Nick Bruno closing the door for starter Derrick Jagello, Naugatuck had a 2-0 upset win over a Cheshire team that owns the state’s best Legion record this summer.
Naugatuck (17-12) advances to Sunday’s second day of Super Regional play at Ceppa Field to face Stamford at 4 p.m. Cheshire (25-4) and Zone 2 rival Hamden (23-8) square off at 1 p.m. in an elimination game.
With Saturday’s loss, it will be a long road for Cheshire to reach next weekend’s state championship series at Ceppa. To capture the Southern Regional, Cheshire must win four games in the next four days.
Ben Shadeck certainly put Cheshire in position to beat Naugatuck on Saturday. The left-hander worked seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits, before Naugatuck got to him in the eighth.
Naugatuck did it by slow degrees: a walk, a fielder’s choice, an infield single, a second infield single that scored the game’s first run, a RBI single to deliver the insurance.
When Shadeck, who was at 107 pitches, walked the next batter to loaded the bases, Ian Battipaglia came on and induced a fly out to keep Post 92 within range going into the bottom of the eighth.
Paul Villecco gave Cheshire some hope by singling with two outs. That’s when Bruno came on for Jagello to end it.
Jagello was sharp. He allowed just three hits and one walk.
Battipaglia had Cheshire’s first hit, a lead-off single in the second inning. Combined with a walk to Villecco, it was the first scoring chance of the day. Jagello squelched it by inducing a groundout, the first of 13 straight Cheshire batter’s he’d retire through the middle frames.
Strollo broke up that string with his double to start the seventh. When he was moved up 90 feet, another Cheshire walk-off seemed to be in the offing. Now, Post 92 must stave off defeat to keep its season alive.