MERIDEN – Southington Post 72 was unable to find the same seventh inning magic as it did in the Northern Division Super Regional, falling 2-1 to Stamford Post 3 in game one on the best of three 19U State Championship at Ceppa Field.
It was a classic pitcher’s duel with neither team getting on the scoreboard until the sixth inning.
However, it was Stamford’s Reid Gesualdi who came up with the deciding blow, a two-run single to right, that put Post 3 ahead 2-1 in the bottom half of the inning.
“That was huge,” Stamford head coach Kevin Murray said of Gesauldi’s hit. “We had a situation in the fourth inning where we had first and second and I was thinking one run might win this game.
“The way Reid swings it he can drop a hit anytime. It paid off there he had a huge hit. That’s a huge win for our program.”
Southington starter Nick Borkowski and Stamford starter Matt Tiplady went pitch for pitch in the first five innings, each allowing just two hits and no runs.
“All my off speed was working really well today,” Borkowski said. “Just going slider first pitch to really keep them off balance that was working well and mixing in my change-up and slider in two strike counts.”
Southington would break the scoreless tie on a Josh Panarella RBI double that scored Jeremy Mercier from first.
“Nick pitched great,” Southington manager Marc Verderame said. “He battled up there. We got the lead, great job by Josh Panarella, and unfortunately they got to us.”
Stamford answered in the bottom of the seventh thanks to the speed of left fielder Jaden Dawkins.
Dawkins would reach on an error by the third baseman Mercier to lead off the inning. He then proceeded to steal second and advanced to third on a perfectly placed bunt single by Mike Berlingo.
“Jaden gets on base and it’s a different game,” Murray said. “He’s a game-changer on the bases. We had a couple plays on and Berlingo put a great bunt down and next thing you know we had the pressure on them.”
Borkowski would get Skaug to pop out, before Verderame decided to intentionally walk Skarad to load the bases.
Borkwowksi would get two strikes on Gesualdi, but he came through, singling down the right field line, scoring Dawkins and Berlingo to give Stamford the lead.
“We made a mistake,” Verderame said. “I thought we had them there, and they came up with the big hit. That’s baseball. They had one more big play than us.”
Southington would get a baserunner in the seventh on a one out walk by first baseman Aneesh Avancha, but pinch runner Tyler Strong was caught stealing by Skarad to end the game.
“It shows a lot of character,” Murray said of his team’s comeback. “My kids don’t stop until the last out. If there’s an out left they’re going to play hard.”
In the fourth, Borkowski had gotten the better of Gesauldi getting him to ground into a 6-3 double play with two on and nobody out, but the Stamford right fielder came up big with the game on the line.
“After getting out of that it felt great,” Borkowski said of the fourth-inning escape. “Obviously, it was stressful in the moment but I knew I could get out of it. Coming in the next inning the two straight strikeouts felt great because I was pumped up from the inning before.”
Southington didn’t get a runner past second base in the first five innings against Tiplady who would throw a complete game in the victory.
“Tiplady pitched a gem,” Murray said. “We were hungry today. Borkowski pitched a hell of a game but we matched him.”
Southington will now have its back against the wall heading into Saturday. Post 72 will need to win both games of a potential doubleheader to repeat as Connecticut State Champions.
“I think we’re right there with them,” Verderame said. “I think everybody is counting us out right now. Ninety nine percent of the people think we’re going to lose but we’re the one percent. We’re going to try and shock the world tomorrow.”
Despite losing game one, Borkowski is confident that this team’s experience in this situation will help them do just that.
“We’re not worried,” Borkowski said. “We’ve been here before. We’ve been down and out, everyone’s against us. I honestly trust my guys over anyone. Even though we lost it was a great game, both teams played well.
“I just feel like we’re going to come back and shock the world tomorrow.”