MIDDLETOWN — There just wasn’t enough offense for the Southington baseball team as it dropped the Class LL state championship game to No. 5 Staples 3-0 on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Palmer Field.
Perfect day. Imperfect result.
The No. 3 Blue Knights (21-4) were able to muster only three hits off of Staples’s Chad Knight. Two of them came in the first inning.
“I think we played amazing (in this tournament),” junior Kevin McIntyre said. “(Today) I feel like we needed to hit a little more. Our pitchers pitched well. It always doesn’t go in your favor.”
Southington (21-4) was playing in its first state championship baseball game since 2014 and looking for its first state title since 1999. Staples (22-3), meanwhile, reclaimed the Class LL banner it won in 2017.
Southington had its best chance to score in the first inning, as left fielder Jack Meade and catcher Jake DelMonte ripped back-to-back singles off of Knight, but fly outs by center fielder Andrew Paradis and shortstop Jake Romano and a strikeout of first baseman Jake Neuman stranded both runners.
“It’s tough any time you don’t score when you have runners in scoring position,” said Southington coach Charlie Lembo. “We were hoping to get something there, but it was early. It’s the first inning and Andrew is our three-hitter we were going to let him swing away there.”
Southington also got a leadoff single by Bryce Worth in the third, but was unable to capitalize.
Staples broke the scoreless tie in the following frame, though Southington starter Ryan Henderson did a good job limiting the damage to just one run.
After a leadoff single by first baseman Harry Azadian, Wreckers’ shortstop Andrew Moy dropped a bunt down the third baseline.
Devan Bade made a nice play on the ball, but the throw was up the line, and Moy knocked it out of the glove of Jake Neuman as he ran by, sending the ball into no-man’s land and putting runners on the corners with nobody out.
Henderson walked center fielder Adam Petro to load the bases, setting the stage for Kevin Rabacs to drive in the first run on a sacrifice fly.
Henderson settled down to retire Chris Veneruso, but hit No. 9 hitter Jake D’Amico to bring Knight to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Henderson got Knight to roll over to third, keeping the Blue Knights easily within striking distance.
Eventually, the Wreckers chased Henderson when he took a Zach Zobel line drive of his foot with one out in the fifth.
“(Henderson) threw really well,” Lembo said. “A ball either way. They get a ball up the middle, he gets a glove on it, but doesn’t get it all. We lived with that when we were winning one-run games, and you’ve got to look at it from both sides.”
The Zobel single would eventually turn into the second Staples run, as an errant pickoff attempt by reliever Jason Krar scored Zobel from third.
“We battled,” Lembo said. “We battled all game and we just made too many mistakes. That’s what it comes down to. They had a few more hits than we did, but we gave them a couple of runs.”
Staples picked up another run in the top of the sixth, this time on a passed ball, while Southington continued to struggle at the plate.
“It was tough,” Paradis said of facing Knight. “He was mixing it up. He had a good curveball and he also threw pretty hard. He was locating well all game. He’s a good pitcher.”
Knight retired 12 in a row after the Worth single, leaving the Blue Knights with one last chance in the bottom of the seventh to re-create the magic of the previous four games, three of which were won on walk-off hits.
“I thought we were going to win,” Lembo said. “I actually did. I thought we were going to load the bases get a run and then maybe get a bomb or hit a gapper. I thought we were going to win until the last out.”
Southington got back-to-back walks to start the seventh drawn by Neuman and Romano, but Knight settled down to retire the next three batters to win the title.
“It would’ve been nice to get a couple there,” Paradis said. “Even if we come up short with the loss still, but just get a couple runs to make it a little more impressive.”
McIntyre, who grounded into a fielder’s choice in the seventh, said that after all that had happened in the past two weeks, he had thought the Blue Knights could walk-off again.
“The past two weeks have probably been the most fun time of my life,” McIntyre said. “I’ve never had that much fun playing baseball. I just can’t wait to get back at it.”
“I loved spending every minute with these guys on this team,” said Lembo. “love these guys. They’re great. We’re going to miss the seniors that are moving on. We have a number of guys that are coming back and we’ll get at it again.”