MERIDEN — Southington started off the American Legion state championship series on the right foot Friday night, defeating Ellington 3-2 at Ceppa Field.
The hero? The same guy from Wednesday night’s epic South Division super regional final.
Jeremy Mercier came through again for Post 72 with a three-run double in the fourth inning that erased a 2-0 deficit and wound up being the difference. On Wednesday, Mercier slugged a grand slam in Southington’s 5-0 win over Cheshire in 13 innings.
“You want to talk about the stuff of legends. Jeremy Mercier has been playing legendary,” said Southington coach Marc Verderame. “The other night with the grand slam and tonight, coming up with the bases loaded, and — boom — to the wall, three-run double.
“He’s unbelievable. He’s got absolutely no pulse in these situations. He’s a gamer and I’m proud of him.”
Southington started off slowly Friday night, perahps emotionally spent after the 13-inning marathon on Wednesday night.
Ellington had no problems taking advantage. In the top of the first, Ellington’s Dakota Aldrich got things started with a double into the gap. After reaching third off of a single by Stefan Lesco, Aldrich came into score on a sacrifice fly from Kevin Smith.
Ellington struck again in the top of the third inning. Chase Kidd and Aldrich had singled to start the rally. Aggressive base running put the two runners on second and third.
Southington catcher Josh Panarella threw down to third and nabbed Kidd, erasing him from the base paths. After Lesco drew a walk, however, Smith hit a grounder that went for an error and allowed Aldrich to score his second run of the game.
Down 2-0 heading into the top of the fourth, Southington snapped out of its funk. An infield single from Panarella and a walk to Brandon Kohl put two runners on to lead off the inning. Then Brayden Cooney reached on an error to load them up.
And up stepped Mercier, who struck again, lining a drive into the left-center field gap. All three runners came in to score, putting Southington on top, 3-2.
With the lead, Southington starter Nick Borkowski settled in. Borkowski allowed seven hits and struck out only two batters, but he surrendered just one walk, went the distance and got the job done.
Borkowski let his defense make plays behind him, the biggest of which came from Kohl in center field. In the bottom of the fourth, with a runner one first, Kohl made a tremendous diving catch, robbing Ryan Decker of an extra-base hit.
Kohl then got up and whipped the ball in to double up the runner off first to end the inning.
Southington failed to scratch another run across, but it didn’t matter. Borkowski and excellent defense took Southington the rest of way to the Game 1 victory.
The best-of-3 series continues Saturday at Ceppa Field at 1 p.m. A third game, if necessary, would follow at 4 p.m. The winner advances to the New England Regionals.
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