SOUTHINGTON — In sports movies, you expect heroic endings. A captivating moment built up through two hours of suspenseful cinema.
But, of course, that’s entertainment. It’s not often you see a movie plot played out in front of you in real life.
That was the case at Fontana Field on Tuesday afternoon as Liam Scafariello homered not once, but twice. The final blast was a three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the eighth inning, a moon shot over the trees beyond the left field fence, that lifted No. 3 Southington to 6-4 victory over No. 19 West Haven in the second round of the CIAC Class LL baseball tournament.
“I just got my hands there quick and put a good piece on it,” Scafariello said.
“Right off the bat I knew it was gone,” said UConn-bound Joe Rivera, who was standing on first base after working a two-out walk that allowed Scafariello to bat.
With Southington down 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth, freshman Johnathan Mikosz got a pinch-hit bloop single over first. Joe Daigle bunted him over and then Zach Susi hit a screaming liner down first, but Jake Kelly made a fully outstretched dive to record the out.
Rivera then came up and worked a walk.
“It was really hard (to lay off) because I popped up on two earlier in the game,” he said of a ball-four high fastball.
Scafariello was next, the transfer from Xavier who already with one home run in the game, a solo shot in the fourth that had tied it at 1-1.
“I knew they’re not going to pitch to me,” he said of the final AB. “I knew they’re going to throw me outside the whole time. I was just trying to put one in play.”
The count quickly ran to 3-0. Head coach Charlie Lembo gave Scafariello the green light.
“Today, it wasn’t a tough decision,” Lembo said.
“After 3-0, I thought, ‘They’re definitely coming in on me,’” Scafariello recalled.
The rest was Hollywood script.
“If you look up 3-0 count in the dictionary and what kind of swing you want to put on it, that’s the one,” Lembo said.
“Guy hit two bombs on us. Those things weren’t coming down,” said West Haven coach Michael Anquillare. “He just hit basically everything we threw.”
It was a wild afternoon in a game that Lembo admitted his team wasn’t at its best.
“We didn’t play the way we can,” he said. “We didn’t do too many things the way we should.”
Before Scafariello’s dramatics, the ghosts of baseball past came out to haunt the Blue Knights. Trailing 3-1, Southington had the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the sixth, when Ryan DeAngelo hit a single up the middle. Joe Daigle scored and so did Rivera, who jarred the ball loose from the catcher as he slid home.
The Southington bench erupted and rushed to the plate to congratulate him, but the ball was still in play and got kicked during the celebration. Interference was called. The runs counted, but it was an automatic out and the inning ended with runners on second and third.
Lembo was asked if he’d ever seen anything like that before, and of course he had. It was a scene all too familiar to him: “Yea … four years ago.”
That would be the 2011 Class LL title game against Newington, when Southington’s winning run in extra-innings was negated because the runner, also greeted by teammates rushing from the dugout, was ruled to have missed home plate. Newington went on to win the game and the championship.
“They said they’re going to put a rope up in the dugout to keep us back,” Rivera joked.
On the hill, Rivera got the start and gutted out 6 1/3 innings, striking out three.
“I just wasn’t locating as good as I should have,” he said. “It was just an off day.”
Kyle Cole came in with two on and one out in the seventh and got Southington out of the jam. In the eighth, after a few bloops brought in the go-ahead run, Cole was able to slither out of a first-and-third, one-out jam with back-to-back Ks.
“He came in and got us out of a tough spot,” Lembo said of Cole.
After some errors and a jittery start Tuesday, Lembo hopes for better things in Friday’s quarterfinal game against No. 6 Manchester (17-5) in Southington.
“Hopefully now we come back and put a cleaner game together Friday.”