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WALLINGFORD — This year is the golden anniversary of Lyman Hall’s 1969 Class L state baseball championship and the team will be honored at the 37th annual Lyman Hall High School Hall of Fame ceremony next month.
Members of the team will be honored with the “Historic Team Award” on Friday, May 10 at the school’s Dr. Richard A. Otto Auditorium at 6:30 p.m.
It’s been 50 years since the Lyman Hall baseball team hoisted the program’s first state title at Yale Field after an epic 3-1 win over Naugatuck. It took 25 innings to decide the state championship that year and it will forever live fondly in Lyman Hall lore.
Bob Neubauer coached the Trojans to a victory that took five days to conclude.
It started on a Wednesday. Naugatuck starter Jim Hankey took a no-hitter and a 2-0 lead into the ninth inning (high school games were nine innings back then). Steve Eccles broke up the no-hitter with two outs. Then the Trojans loaded the bases. Then up stepped Eddie Pikor, who rifled a two-run single up the middle to tie the score at 2-2.
It remained 2-2 until darkness forced a halt after 15 innings.
After getting rained out on Saturday, the teams returned on Monday and started from scratch. This time, the score was tied 1-1 after nine innings until another RBI single by Pikor triggered a two-run burst in the 10th that produced the 3-1 win and the first state baseball championship in Wallingford history.
“Not only were we getting beat 2-0 in the ninth with two outs and two strikes with a no-hitter being thrown against us, Yale Field didn’t have lights,” Neubauer recalled. “We needed postpone it and start a brand new game.”
Billy Read was Neubauer's ace during the championship run. He tossed nearly all 25 innings in the state final — or, as it turned out, state finals.
“We never had a great hitting team,” Neubauer said. “I think we had a team batting average of .230 or .220. But, boy, I can tell you something, they could play defense.
“I had Billy Read, Tommy Sears and Bobby Duchette as my pitchers. They carried me. When you get three front-line pitchers, it’s great. But Billy Read, he was 150 pounds soaking wet with Coke-bottle glasses. He had a curveball and control that you wouldn’t believe for a high school kid. He had a knuckleball, to beat it. They couldn’t touch him. They couldn’t touch him.”
Read tossed the first 12 innings of Wednesday’s game. He re-entered in the 14th and again in the 15th innings when the Greyhounds put men on base.
Read then went the full 10 innings when the game was restarted five days later. Read picked off a runner in the10th inning to preserve the win.
Read and Trojans, it turned out, slayed an imminent giant. Naugatuck went on to win 64 games in a row from 1970 through 1972.
“I had the smartest kids in baseball history at that school,” Neubauer said. “Every single one of those kids was a brain. You didn’t have to be a great coach. All you had to do was say something once and, boom, it was done.”
Neubauer was in his second year as head coach in 1969. Along the way to the state championship, he knocked off four coaching greats: Waterford’s Gerry Rousseau, Southington’s John Fontana, West Haven’s Whitey Purek and Naugatuck’s Ray Legenza.
Seeded No. 13 out of 16 teams with a record of 13-5, the Trojans started their quest with a 15-inning 4-3 win over Waterford on a game-winning hit by Gary Brandl.
Then, in the quarterfinals at Ceppa Field, LH downed Southington, 2-1. Neubauer recalled the game was decided on a balk.
In the semis, the Trojans were down 6-2 against West Haven when they rallied for six runs in eighth inning to win 8-6. Ron Piazza, the No. 9 hitter, had three hits in that game. Including the go-ahead RBI.
“Then we went to the finals,” Neubauer said. “I beat four legends in a row. A peon like me. That was my second year as a head coach. (John) Riccitelli gave it up in ‘68. My first year in ’68 we missed the tournament at 10-6. In ’69 we just got in at 13-5 and ended up winning the whole thing.”
Piazza said Neubauer defeated the Mount Rushmore of coaching.
“He beat every one of them,” Piazza said. “They all have at least 400 wins.”
Lyman Hall's 1969 Class LL title team included Al Monchick, Tom Sears, Gary Fredericks, Bill Read, Gary Brandl, Ron Piazza, Ed Pikor, Charlie Cassella, Paul Lamoureaux, Tim Rice, Bob McCarthy, Bob Duchette, Bill Boisvert, Ken Kuczynski, Steve Eccles, Kerry Daniels and Jim Powers. Neubauer’s assistant coach was Bill Freeman.
Neubauer won’t be in attendance at the Hall of Fame ceremony on May 10. He will record a video that will be played at the event.
Piazza said most of the players will be in attendance.
“It’s pretty nice after all of these years,” Piazza said. “It’s great to see my teammates again. I got confirmation that most will be in attendance. It makes all of the effort worth it. It was an incredible season. They were all excited about it.”
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