Sophomore left-hander Drew Farkas turned in a sparkling relief stint and drove in two runs Tuesday as the third-seeded Blue Knights advanced to the Class LL final for the second straight year with a 6-5 comeback win over No. 15 Fairfield Warde.
Southington (20-3) will meet the winner of the Amity-Simsbury nightcap.
“Our goal this year was to get a little better every day,” Southington coach Charlie Lembo said. “If you get a little better every day, exponentially you’re not bad at the end of the year. We get to play one more game.”
Farkas (4-1) entered the fray with the bases loaded and two outs in the third inning after Rivera issued four consecutive walks to bring Warde’s lead to 4-1. Farkas retired Brendan Miner on a grounder to third and went on to set down 10 batters in a row.
“He really gutted it out,” Lembo said. “This was probably the biggest situation he’s ever been in s life, on the mound anyway.”
Ryan DeAngelo swung the potent bat. He went 3-for-3 with two doubles, three RBIs and a sacrifice.
Farkas, who had just one at-bat all season (1-for-1), complimented his mound work with a single and walk, both of which sent runs home.
The Knights scored in every inning but the second. They tied the game and went ahead against reliever Nick Nardone (3-2) in the fifth.
Rivera, who remained focused offensively and defensively despite his mound struggle, started that fifth inning with a walk and Liam Scafariello followed suit. DeAngelo executed a perfect sacrifice to move the runners into scoring position. Adam Wilson was walked intentionally to put the double play in effect, but Brett Shaw foiled the strategy with a base hit through the left side to tie the game.
With two out, a walk to Farkas forced in the go-ahead marker.
After Farkas retired Warde in order for the third straight frame, the Knights tacked on what proved to be a crucial insurance tally in the bottom of the sixth. Zac Susi led with single and was forced by Rivera, who continued to second on a throwing error. DeAngelo slammed an RBI double off the wall.
The Mustangs still had some kick left in the seventh. Leadoff man Tom Luckner (1-for-2, 2 walks, 2 stolen bases, 3 runs) singled to left. Nardone hit a chopper into the hole that shortstop Joe Daigle snagged. He bounced the throw to first, but Mike Rogalski made a big-league scoop for the first out.
With two down, Giacomo Brancato raked a triple in the left field gap. The tying run was just 90 feet away, but Farkas (4 1/3 innings, 2 hits, 0 walks, 4 strikeouts) fanned Christian Sabella to secure the win.
The Mustangs (17-9), champions of the FCIAC, scored an unearned run without the benefit of a hit in the first inning.
Luckner, spotted a 3-0 count, drew a walk after a 10-pitch at-bat. He stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on a passed ball.
The Knights countered quickly.
Susi worked a one-out walk and took second on Rivera’s grounder to second. Scafariello was passed intentionally. DeAngelo, down in the count two strikes, looped an RBI single over shortstop.
“My teammates gave me opportunities and I took them,” DeAngelo said. “They walked Liam and that just gives you motivation. I saw a nice pitch and I drove it.”
Warde regained the lead in the third with Lindner the focal point with another leadoff walk and another steal of second. Rivera struck out the next two hitters looking, but Brancato (2-for-4, 2 RBI) tapped an infield single up the middle. As second baseman Nick Calabrese was bouncing the throw to first, Lindner never stopped running.
Rivera then walked four consecutive batters to force in two runs and give the Mustangs a 4-1 lead. Rivera, who had walked just 19 hitters in nine starts, walked five in the inning and seven in 2 2/3 frames.
“There were no outside factors; I just didn’t have it today,” Rivera said. “It was hot, I was sweating a lot, but you’ve got to adjust to that.”
Farkas came in to put out the fire. Outstanding defense, including a running catch by Rivera in center, helped boost his confidence with each delivery.
“That’s the most important thing. A pitcher without his defense isn’t anything,” Farkas said. “[Rivera] might go down in one thing, but he was ready to pick me back up — pick the entire team back up.”
Southington got one back in the home third. Scafariello walked and came all the way around when DeAngelo drove a double to the wall in right.
Another came home in the fourth. After a walk to Rogalski, Warde starter Hunter Hewitt tossed two wild pitches. Farkas, who had only three at-bats all season, drilled a run-scoring single.
“I practiced [hitting] all winter. I always try to keep the skills up even if I’m not going to be using them in case of a situation like this,” Farkas said.