MERIDEN — On Day 2 of the South Division super regionals of the American Legion state tournament, Southington took down No. 1 Cheshire.
Riding the pitching of Ryan Henderson, Post 72 blanked its Zone 3 rival 4-0 on Sunday afternoon at Ceppa Field.
Henderson’s gem propelled Southington into Tuesday night’s South Division final with a loss to give. To force a rematch, Cheshire will need to beat Naugatuck in an elimination game Monday night.
“Ryan Henderson came out and pitched a great game,” said Southington head coach Marc Verderame. “It’s great when you’ve got pitching. Yesterday, it was Nick Borkowski and, today, it was Ryan Henderson.
“Henderson’s been our saving grace,” Verderame added. “Last week, he pitched a great game for us against Trumbull. Came out here, pitched an excellent game and we executed.”
A day after Borkowski beat Oxford 3-1 in the super regional opener, Henderson was fantastic on Sunday against Cheshire, the 25-3 Zone 3 champ in the regular season.
Henderson went 5 and 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits and one walk against a very patient Cheshire lineup that had outscored its opponents 31-3 over the past four games. Henderson struck out four before reaching the Legion’s 105-pitch limit. Jason Krar came on to finish off the shutout, working out of two-out, bases-loaded jams in the sixth and seventh.
“This was awesome,” Henderson said. “We’re playing a really good team and we’ve got a good team behind us, too. We were able to come out with the W. I was just hitting my corners and throwing my fastball and slider. I was just trying to hit my locations.”
Offensively, after two scoreless innings, Southington began to put pressure on Cheshire’s pitching and defense in the top of the third. Dan Topper led off by smacking a single up the middle and Dylan Chiaro followed by drawing a walk.
Josh Panarella laid down a sacrifice bunt to move both runners into scoring position. The next batter, Brandon Kohl, singled to left, scoring Topper to give Southington a 1-0 lead.
Southington could have had a bigger inning. Post 72 scored just once in the third and left the bases loaded.
It turned out to be moot, especially after Southington struck twice in the top of the fourth inning. Jake Romano singled and, two batters later, a Topper single was compounded by a Cheshire throwing error that put the two in scoring position.
Chiaro singled home Romano. Walks to Panarella and Brayden Cooney eventually brought in Topper to expand the Southington lead to 3-0.
Post 72 left the bases loaded again in the fourth, yet tacked on another run in the top of the fifth to push the advantage to 4-0.
Cheshire loaded the bases in the top of the sixth inning with two outs. Henderson, reaching the 105-pitch limit, came out during the middle of an at-bat. Krar came in to face Paul Villeco with a 2-2 count. Krar froze Villeco with his first pitch, a fastball on the outside corner, to get Southington out of the jam.
Cheshire again loaded the bases in the top of the seventh with two outs. This time, Krar induced a fielder’s choice to get the final out.
The loss sends Cheshire right back to Ceppa to face Naugatuck on Monday at 6:30 p.m. Cheshire defeated Naugatuck 4-0 in the opening round of the super regionals on Saturday and will look to do so again in a do-or-die game.
“We’re always confident when we take the field, so you know there’s a hard road to take and there’s an easy road. We’re taking the hard road,” said Cheshire head coach John Escoto. “We had some small-ball plays that we didn’t execute and they’re a good baseball team. When you’re playing a good baseball team you have to do all of the little things right and we didn’t, so we got beat by a good baseball team. It’s as simple as that.”
Southington, with a loss to give in the double-elimination super regional, is in the driver’s seat with its pitchers rested. On Tuesday. Southington will more than likely start ace Ryan Sheehan with a chance to clinch the South Division. If unsuccessful Tuesday, Southington gets another chance on Wednesday to finish the job and advance to the best-of-three state championship series next weekend at Ceppa.
“We’ve been to hell and back this year and we kind of liked it. We’re battle-tested and battle-hardened,” Verderame said. “We live for these games and these kids came out here wanting to prove a point. We’ve got one more road to cross.”