MERIDEN — The ball sounded good coming off the bat of Maloney shortstop Hector Gonzalez.
It looked good, too, soaring out to deep left-center field, out toward the temporary fence that makes hitting a home run at Ceppa Field not as massive a clout as it once had to be.
Still, the fence angles out from center to left, making it one of the deeper reaches of the yard.
It would figure. It was that kind of an afternoon Tuesday for the Spartans in the CIAC Class L baseball quarterfinals.
Gonzalez, in his bid to be the walk-off hero with a three-run homer, was instead the final out in No. 11 Maloney’s frustrating 5-3 loss to No. 14 Masuk.
“I thought it was going off the bat,” Maloney catcher Mike Gulino would later say.
“I was thinking the same exact thing,” said Gonzalez.
“I was hoping,” said Gulino. “But this field is a lot bigger than you think.”
Ceppa certainly holds plenty of Meriden baseball memories. Unfortunately for the local nine, this latest chapter will be about the day the Spartans, appearing in their first state quarterfinal in six seasons, left 12 men on base, including nine in scoring position.
Including the bases loaded in the second inning. And again in the fourth.
In between, in the third inning, the Spartans evened the game 1-1 and still had runners at second and third base with nobody out, but could not capitalize further.
Masuk wound up pushing two runs across in the top of the fourth and led the rest of the way, improving to 15-8 and advancing to Tuesday’s semifinals while ending Maloney’s season at 15-7.
A good year for the Spartans, yes, but to a man they’ll spend much of today wondering how it could be over. Sadly, the answer is all too simple.
“We hit the ball well a couple times with guys on, but surely not enough,” said Maloney coach Howie Hewitt. “That’s how baseball goes some days.
“We had guys all over the place,” Hewitt added. “[Masuk] didn’t have as many guys on and probably didn’t have as many hits, but they surely got them when they needed them.”
True. The visitors from Monroe were out-hit 11-7, but were the picture of timeliness, especially at the very bottom of the order. John Orzechowski, the No. 8 man, laced a pair of RBI singles to stake Masuk to a 1-0 lead in the second and 2-1 in the fourth.
The No. 9 hitter, Malik Cummings, inserted in the game in the fourth inning, followed Orzechowski’s second RBI single with a sacrifice fly to push the gap to 3-1. In the sixth, Cummings lined an RBI single that extended the lead to 5-1.
Those proved key runs. Gonzalez doubled and scored on Kyle Hartenstein’s RBI single in the home half of the sixth. In the seventh, after Maloney loaded the bases on a single by Alex Lespier, a walk to Logan Hayes and a single by Christian Kiss, Jon Walter delivered a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 5-3.
Walter’s fly out, though, could have been more. It was a liner into the left-center gap, and Masuk center fielder Paul Marchese snared it with a diving catch.
Marchese was at it again with the next batter. That was Gonzalez. Maloney’s leadoff man had literally sent Marchese through the temporary fence trying to chase down his ground-rule double in the sixth. This time, Marchese kept himself and the ball in the yard for the final out.
Gonzalez was 3-for-5 on the day. No. 2 hitter Hartenstein was 2-for-3. Kiss had two hits in four trips out of the No. 8 spot.
Sophomore right-hander Mike Charest started for the Spartans and worked into the sixth inning before junior Cam Fahey relieved. Chris Lindquist got the win for Masuk with help from Cameron Kovachik, who got the last two outs.
The Panthers move on to face No. 2 Jonathan Law (20-3) in the semis. The Spartans look ahead to 2015, when they will return a solid group of underclassmen, including the bulk of their pitching staff.
They say goodbye to an equally solid group of seniors, including four who have been playing together since their Ed Walsh Little League days and will continue their careers in college —Gonzalez (Montclair State), Gulino (Pace), Hartenstein (ECSU) and Walter (ECSU).
“My four years with Maloney are over,” said Gonzalez. “Yes, [it was] a very good ride. I wouldn’t do it with any other guys.”