MERIDEN — “Field of Dreams” author W.P. Kinsella has a lesser-known, but equally entertaining book, “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy,” about a barnstorming game that went on and on for 2,000 innings.
The Southington and Cheshire American Legion baseball teams seemed determined to add their own chapter to the saga on Tuesday night at Ceppa Field.
On and on the Zone 3 rivals went in the South Division super regional final, scoreless through the regulation seven innings and through five extras.
Finally, in the top of the 13th, Southington broke the 0-0 deadlock with a base-loaded walk drawn by Brayden Cooney and — epic blow of epic blows — a grand slam by winning pitcher Jeremy Mercier, who was as stellar in relief as he was at the plate.
With the 5-0 victory, Post 72 could exhale and look ahead to the best-of-three state championship series, which opens Friday night at Ceppa.
Coach Marc Verderame and his Southington boys can rest up and regain their strength over the next two days knowing their future opponent will also have been pushed to the limit. While Southington and Cheshire were engaging in their South Division marathon, Ellington was beating RCP at Muzzy Field to force a winner-take-all rematch on Wednesday in the North Division super regional.
Southington and Cheshire came very close to that, as well. Much of Tuesday’s game was a pitchers’ duel between Cheshire’s Ben Shadeck and Southington’s Ryan Sheehan. Then it was a relievers’ duel between Mercier and Cheshire’s Ian Battipaglia.
Shadeck got the start for Post 92 and worked into seventh. He didn’t exit until he hit the 105-pitch limit with a leadoff walk to Brayden Cooney. Shadeck allowed just two hits and three walks while striking out four. He also hit a batter.
As for Sheehan, he relieved after Southington starter Jason Krar threw a 25-pitch first inning. Sheehan issued a pair of walks in the second inning, but got out of the jam with two strikeouts.
Sheehan cruised from there, pitching into the seventh. He did not allow a hit and struck out five.
Both teams had chances to push across a run or two in regulation.
Cheshire stranded a pair of runners in the first and second innings. Southington left men at second and third in the top half of the second inning after Brandon Kohl (walk) and Mercier (single) got aboard and executed a double steal.
Southington’s third inning ended with Dylan Chiaro getting thrown out trying to steal third base by Cheshire catcher Cole Escoto.
In the fifth, Southington’s Tyler Cyr was stranded after a two-out double.
Cheshire, meanwhile, loaded the bases in the home half of the fifth behind Ryan Strollo, who reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Sheehan intentionally walked Shadeck and then unintentionally walked Ian Battipaglia. The Southington ace fanned Escoto to end the threat.
Both offenses seemed on the verge of a breakthrough in the seventh. That’s where the relievers, Battipaglia and Mercier, came to the rescue.
Battipaglia came in for Shadeck after the leadoff walk drawn by Cooney. Battipaglia walked Mercier to put two men aboard, but induced a pop-up on the ensuing sacrifice bunt attempt, then got one of Southington’s top players, Jake Romano, to ground into an inning-ending double play.
Mercier came in for Sheehan after Strollo reached on a one-out error. Ben Schena worked Mercier for his third walk of the game to put Cheshire runners on first and second. Mercier bore down and fanned Shadeck and Battipaglia.
Undaunted, Battipaglia returned to the hill and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth and struck out the side in the ninth. Mercier issued a walk in the eighth and was clean in the ninth.
At the point, Cheshire had just one hit for the game: the single Shadeck had struck off Krar way back in the first.
In the top of the 10th, Romano shot a two-out double into the gap. The chance fizzed on a fly. In the bottom half, Shadeck drew a walk only to get doubled off first on a fly out.
On to the 11th it went. Dan Topper’s leadoff single gave Southington a spark, and plenty of speed at first base. The ember built as Chiaro reached on an error. Battipaglia doused the chance by fielding a bunt and getting Topper at third, then striking out the next two batters.
Ryan Cyr got the Cheshire dugout stirring with a one-out hit, the first for Post 92 since the first inning. Matt Geyda brought everyone to their feet with a deep drive — that died at the warning track. An ensuing strikeout by Mercier sent the marathon on to the 12th.
Eli Battipaglia ended the top half with a spectacular diving catch on a sinking line drive off the bat of Romano. Cheshire couldn’t capitalize on the momentum. Schena reached on an infield single only to be stranded.
That set the stage for Act XIII. Tyler Cyr got the winning rally rolling with a single up the middle. After a walk to Topper, Schena relieved Battipaglia, who had gone six innings and allowed just three hits.
Chiaro greeted Schena with a successful sacrifice bunt to put runners in scoring position. Schena induced a popup that he fielded himself. He was on the verge of getting out of the inning. Then he walked Kohl. Then Cooney, and that put a run on the board.
Then up stepped Mercier and he put the game out of reach.