AUBURN, Mass. — Braintree, Mass. broke Southington’s glass slipper Saturday afternoon, defeating Connecticut’s American Legion state champs 10-3 in the semifinals of the Northeast Regional.
“It was a tough game,” said Southington head coach Marc Verderame. “Tough to go out like this, tough conditions, but we’ve been battling all year. Our luck just finally ran out.”
The story of this game was the weather conditions. Heavy rain prevented the game from being played at Holy Cross’s Fitton Field in Worcester, which has been hosting the regional since Wednesday. Instead, with the tournament needing to be completed by Sunday, the game was moved to a turf surface at nearby Auburn High School.
Rain was prevalent throughout the game.
The other problem for Southington was pitching. Post 72 burnt through the majority of its staff playing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Verderame turned to several arms on Saturday, as most of them struggled with adjusting to the turf mound and gripping the slippery baseball. Southington used a total of six pitchers throughout the game.
Post 72 did start off positively in the top of the first inning. After an infield single from Danny Topper, Braydon Cooney doubled off the wall to bring Topper in and give Southington a 1-0 lead.
Braintree struck back right away in the bottom half of the inning. After back-to-back walks to Jackson Duffy and Alex Kennedy, Cole Flannery smacked a single to center, scoring Duffy to tie the game.
After a single from Joe Vanelli, Justin Adams hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Kennedy. Nolan Freeman then singled up the middle, scoring Flannery for a 3-1 lead.
Vanelli was thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
Braintree, though, struck again in the bottom of the second. Two walks and a single loaded the bases with no outs and led to two runs and a 5-1 lead.
It could have been worse. Three base-running gaffes by Braintree got Southington out of the jam.
Post 72 then closed the gap to 5-3 in the top of third inning. Brandon Kohl singled, stole second and wound up scoring on two wild pitches. Josh Panarella reached base on a walk and came around to score all the way from first on another double off the bat of Cooney.
That’s all Southington would get, though, as Braintree went on to score five more runs, all in similar fashion. Many innings began with Braintree runners reaching base on walks and singles. The Massachusetts champs would scratch some runs across, but they also made many base-running mistakes, stopping them from blowing the game wide open.
In the big picture, Southington went much farther than expected. Post 72 finished second in Zone 3 to Cheshire in the regular season, yet managed to upend Cheshire in the South Division super regional and then sweep Ellington in the best-of-three state finals.
In the Northeast Regional, Southington bounced back from an opening loss to Essex, Vt. and defeated Ellington and Rochester, N.H. to reach the semifinals. Overall, the team was 28-11.
“Proud of these kids and proud of being state champs,” Verderame said. “Braintree came out and they were the better team today. They adapted to these conditions better than us.
“We had a great run and we have plenty to be proud of,” the head coach added. “State champs for the first time in 25 years and I’m just happy to have been here.”