WATERBURY — The Cheshire baseball team had ridden a magic carpet since dropping the season opener way back on April 1.
It carried the Rams to 25 straight wins over the next two months, to a walk-off conference championship and to even more remarkable rallies in the opening rounds of their Class LL state title defense.
It carried them into Tuesday night’s semifinals at Municipal Stadium. There, the carpet hit the wall against Staples.
And, yes, it was a case of Good Knight — as in Chad Knight. Connecticut’s Gatorade Player of the Year threw a three-hit shutout and belted a solo home run to lead the No. 4 Wreckers to a 3-0 victory that ended Cheshire’s reign as Class LL champs.
In doing so, Staples returned serve. A year ago, in the quarterfinals, Cheshire had ended Staples’ turn at the top of Class LL.
A year later, Knight out-dueled Cheshire’s junior star, Mike Kozlowski, to send the Westport squad, now 24-3, into a championship game matchup with No. 3 Southington on Saturday at noon at Middletown’s Palmer Field.
“It was a great season,” said first-year Cheshire head coach Matt Lussier, who was an assistant on last year’s state title team. “I just told the guys, ‘Don’t hang your end down; you guys just went 25 straight games; I don’t know any other team that’s won 25 straight games in high school.’”
The Staples-Cheshire semifinal pitted a 7-0 Knight against a 9-0 Kozlowski. Not surprisingly, this game was scoreless through three innings.
In the fourth, Staples broke through with two runs. A leadoff single by Drew Rogers sparked it. He scored on a double down the right field line by Zach Zobel.
The Wreckers then played textbook small-ball that paid off. Harry Azadian bunted Zobel over to third and that put Zobel in position to score on a wild pitch.
Two innings later, Knight launched his 12th home run of the season and 27th of his career, a solo shot down the left field line, to push the Staples’ lead to 3-0 and chased Kozlowski (5 H, 6 K) from the game.
Cheshire reliever Ian Battipaglia held the Wreckers in check the rest of the way. The Rams, however, could not get to Knight despite having chances.
Battipaglia, after working a leadoff walk in the home half of the fourth, stole second, but languished in scoring position.
In the last of the sixth, Paul Villecco lashed his second single of the game and, with the Rams executing perfectly on the hit-and-run, advanced to third as Battipaglia ripped one through the right side. Knight notched a strikeout to end the threat.
“In the sixth inning, they didn’t let up again. We got two guys in scoring position and if we get that base hit, it’s now 3-2 and it’s a totally different game,” Lussier said. “But that’s baseball. Baseball gods weren’t in our favor today.
“I’ve got to tip my hat to Chad,” the Cheshire coach added. “He pitched a hell of a game … We helped him a couple times, but he’s a good pitcher. We haven’t scored a run since the second inning against Enfield (in the quarterfinals), so you figure that’s 12 innings we didn’t get a run.”
In the seventh, Cheshire went in order and a remarkable two-year run was over.
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