WORCESTER, Mass. — Ryan Henderson tossed a four-hit shutout and Brayden Cooney slugged a home run Friday afternoon to lead the Southington American Legion baseball team to a 3-0 victory over Rochester, N.H. in the Northeast Regional at the College of the Holy Cross.
It was the second straight elimination-game win for coach Marc Verderame and the boys from Post 72, and it puts them in Saturday’s semifinals. At noon, they’ll face the winner of Portland, Maine and Braintree, Mass., who squared off in Friday night’s late game at Fitton Field.
In the Southington-Rochester game, both starters went the distance — Henderson for Southington, Drew Nickerson for New Hampshire.
Cooney’s bomb in the second inning gave Henderson the one run he’d need, though the Southington ace also got tremendous support from his defense. Two New Hampshire runners were throw out at third base trying to advance on hits. Shortstop Jake Romano also turned a crucial 6-3 double play in the fourth inning.
Without that twin-killing, New Hampshire probably would have scored in the fourth when the Southington lead stood at 2-0.
”Ryan Henderson was lights out today — complete game and he only gave up a couple of hits,” Verderame said. “He pitched tremendously and we played excellent defense behind him.”
Southington pushed its lead to 2-0 with a run in the third. Brandon Kohl led off with a walk, stole second and zipped home on Dylan Chiaro’s one-out single.
Chiaro was also in the middle of Southington’s offense in the fifth. Laying down a sacrifice bunt after Dan Topper led off with a single, Chiaro reached on an error. Topper motored all the way over to third on the play and ultimately scored on a balk.
Southington wound up leaving the bases loaded in that fifth inning, but the 3-0 cushion was plenty for Henderson, who was mostly keeping the ball in the infield with an assortment of pop-ups and groundout.
New Hampshire did put its leadoff man aboard in the sixth. Henderson nullified it with a 1-4 fielder’s choice that cut down the lead runner.
In the seventh, Henderson notched his fifth and sixth strikeouts to end it and the Connecticut state champs, with no margin for error after losing their opener against Essex, Vt., lived to fight another day
“This team has heart; they are champions and we won’t go quietly,” Verderame said. “I’m so proud of these guys for the run they’ve been on. We all don’t want it to end. We are just trying to survive and give it everything that we have.”