SOUTHINGTON — Billy Carr’s flair for the dramatic has him etching his name in the Southington High School baseball history book.
After hitting a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning to defeat No. 30 New Britain in the first round of the Class LL state tournament on Thursday, Carr found himself at the plate with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh of Friday’s scoreless second-round game against No. 19 Darien.
And once again, in a two-strike count, the junior delivered, ripping a single through the middle to send No. 3 Southington to the quarterfinals and his teammates into another post-game frenzy.
“It’s just unbelievable,” said senior starting pitcher Ryan Henderson, who tossed a one-hit shutout in the 1-0 victory. “That kid, I don’t know what world he’s on right now. He must be feeling it.”
To add to the symmetry, junior center fielder Andrew Paradis scored the winning run for the second consecutive game.
“I love that kid,” Carr said of Paradis. “He’s always in the game no matter if we’re up 10-0 or down 10-0. He’s in the game. He’s ready to hit every time.”
Lembo, who said it’s all about surviving and advancing this time of year, wouldn’t mind seeing it again.
“Same guy gets the game-winning hit, same guy scores the game-winning run: I’ll take it,” Lembo said with a laugh. “I’ll take it again tomorrow, too.”
Friday’s win over Darien puts Southington (19-3) right back at Fontana Field on Saturday to face No. 6 Fairfield Ludlowe (18-4) in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m.
Against Darien, Southington was hitless through the first six innings against Mac McLean. Paradis snapped that leading off the seventh, lacing a single to center.
It was the starting of the winning rally. Junior Jake Nueman followed and bunted Paradis over to second.
“(Paradis) got a clutch hit to get us started,” Lembo said. “(Neuman), I thought that was a great bunt. They made a great play on it just to get him.”
The Blue Wave intentionally walked Southington senior shortstop Jake Romano to set up a double play — and they got a potential double-play ball on a grounder to shortstop Henry Williams. Williams, however, was unable to field it cleanly, loading the bases and bringing Carr to the plate.
“Yesterday was great, but today I was like, ‘Oh God, it’s happening again,’” Carr said. “I did the same thing. They brought the infield in and I punched an outside pitch up the middle and we win the game. That’s all I had to do.”
Both teams had some struggles defensively, Southington made a pair of errors to Darien’s three, but it was the final miscue that helped end the Blue Wave’s season.
“Tournament games are never easy,” Lembo said. “Both teams pitched great. (McLean) threw great; Ryan threw great. We made a few mistakes in the field; they made a few mistakes in the field. We just hung in there.
“We were playing well. We just needed to get a couple hits.”
Southington got a tremendous performance out of Henderson, who tossed a one-hit shutout, striking out four.
“I didn’t keep on throwing fastballs the whole time,” Henderson said. “I switched it up. First-pitch curveball, slider — it didn’t matter. I just had to get in their heads so they couldn’t predict what was coming next, so I had to hit them with something different every time.”
Southington also had some slick fielding to get Henderson out of a couple of jams.
In the third, after a throwing error and a hit by pitch, Darien had two on with nobody out. But a diving play by first baseman Neuman on a bunt attempt by junior Aaron Sears followed by a 6-3 unassisted double play by Romano kept the Blue Wave off the scoreboard.
Darien’s Glen Fay got aboard with a one-out walk in the seventh, but Southington catcher Jake Delmonte gunned him down attempting to steal second to end the threat.
“We made a couple mistakes, but we came right back and got double plays,” Lembo said. “We didn’t let those mistakes escalate. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.
“You’re asking 15-16-17-year old guys to prepare for a tournament game on Tuesday, we don’t play it. Prepare again on Wednesday, play 10 innings. Then prepare to come back all over again and play it on Thursday. Then prepare again on Friday. To fall behind (Thursday) and really show what we’re made of and come back.”
Despite playing three days in a row, the Blue Knights remained solid when it mattered most.
“It keeps everybody at a higher pace,” Carr said. “Everybody’s sharp when they’re up there. Our pitchers have been doing great. Even yesterday, (Vinny Spizzoucco, Jason Krar and Neuman) were great and then Henderson was dealing today.”
Henderson’s complete game was much need for a team that used four different pitchers in the first round’s two-day, 11-inning.
“He was pumping the zone,” Lembo said. “He was able to keep them off balance. They swing the bats; they’re a free-swinging team. If you’re not out there throwing strikes, they’re going to start backing off on their swings. He was making them swing, dropping the off-speed stuff in whenever he could.”
Southington will turn around and take on another FCIAC opponent in the quarterfinals. Fairfield Ludlowe took out No. 22 Simsbury with an 8-2 victory on Thursday.
“We’ve been in a lot of pressure situations throughout the year,” Henderson said. “The chemistry in the dugout — we’re not getting down on anyone, we’re getting everyone going. There’s no quitting on this team. We’re like a family and we’re just here to win games.”