WORCESTER, Mass. — Southington Post 72 was unable to hold onto a 2-0 lead, allowing three runs in the bottom of the sixth to fall 5-3 to Cumberland, Rhode Island, in a Northeast Regional elimination game at Hanover Insurance Park.
“That’s a tough loss,” Southington manager Marc Verderame said. “Kind of the story of our season, close games just losing a close one, bad break here, bad call there.”
The loss ends Post 72’s season, the second consecutive in which they reached regional play.
“That’s adversity,” Verderame said. “We try to teach baseball, we try to teach life around here too. Going forward these guys have been through adversity and it’s going to serve them well in life.
“This has been real. I love these guys and we’ve had a lot of success together these last two years. I’m going to miss them. I appreciate what they’ve done.”
Southington ace Ryan Henderson, who Verderame had saved in the tournament for this moment, was lights out through the first five innings, escaping a couple jams but allowing just three hits and keeping Cumberland off the scoreboard.
However, in the sixth it unraveled for Henderson and Post 72 as a one-out walk to David Bordieri Jr. would kick start a five-run Cumberland sixth.
“All we can do is set the stage,” Verderame said. “Henderson went out there and pitched great. Unfortunately, he walked a couple [too many] guys.”
After a single by left fielder CJ Davock, Henderson walked pinch hitter Joe Molis to load the bases.
Henderson, who walked six batters in 5 innings, continued to struggle with his command, walking catcher Reuben Hancock to plate the first Cumberland run.
“Walks will kill you,” Verderame said. “I didn’t think they hit [Henderson] hard at all.”
That brought shortstop and No. 9 hitter Shane Calabro, who delivered the go-ahead blow as his grounder got past third baseman Jeremy Mercier and down the line to give Cumberland a 3-2 lead.
“I went out there and looked [Henderson] in the eye and said ‘You’re at 101 [pitches] do you want this guy?’” Verderame said. “[Henderson] said yes. He did the job, a little ground ball to third. It just didn’t bounce our way.
“He pitched great, it wasn’t on him. A couple bad calls here and there but that’s adversity, that’s life.”
Verderame would lift Henderson for Mercier who struggled with his command, hitting a batter and walking another run in. An Addison Kopack sacrifice fly would cap the five-run rally.
Southington had control of the game early, as Henderson stifled an early Cumberland threat with runners on the corners and just one out in the first.
Henderson then battled back from down 3-0 to strike out cleanup hitter Steve Andrews and followed it up with another strikeout of David Bordieri Jr. to end the inning.
Post 72 would get on the board in the top of the second. Shortstop Jake Romano started the inning with a one-out double over Tyler McNulty’s head in right. First baseman Aneesh Avancha followed with a single to right moving Romano to third.
Cumberland starter Ben Hale would bounce a pitch that trickled by catcher Reuben Hancock, allowing Romano to score the first run of the afternoon.
Southington got to Hale once again in the third. Kyle Leifert, the hero from Thursday’s 6-2 win over the Hampden River Dogs, picked up a one out single through the left side.
That brought up Mercier who Verderame has flip-flopped positions in the batting order with Leifert the past two games.
It paid off once again, as Mercier crushed a double off the wall in left, scoring Leifert all the way from first base to put Southington ahead 2-0.
However, Hale would settle in, retiring nine of the next 11 batters he faced before giving way to Kopack to close it out in the seventh.
Southington would put together a rally of its own, as Avancha worked a leadoff walk and Ethan McDonough followed with a single to center.
Sean Crean would cut the lead to 5-3 with a RBI single to right and stole second base to put runners on second and third with two outs for Mercier, but he grounded out to third, ending the comeback attempt.
“This team has got heart,” Verderame said. “We got the tying run on second base. A chance to tie it with Mercier up that’s all you could ask for.
“It just didn’t go our way. I’m proud of the fight that we got here to regionals for the second straight year. This program has been solidified and it is all because of those guys.”
While Southington was unable to match last season’s win total in the regional tournament, it has been back-to-back successful years for the Post 72 program which they hope to build on in the future.
“The way we came together as a squad, we made a lot of memories together,” Verderame said. “Memories that they’re never going to forget and that I’m never going to forget. We’ve had so much success together.
“I’m going to miss coaching them. This is a blood kinship, we’ve won together and this is a family. We’re going to move forward together in life.”