MIDDLETOWN — Artists as well as fighters, they were looking to apply the final touch, the 2 to the 1 on a Class LL championship punch.
You know how you want these scripts to go.
The Southington baseball team certainly did. A mere 14 hours after the Southington softball team had beaten Amity 1-0 on a walk-off home run by Rachel Dube in the bottom of the 15th inning in West Haven, the baseball Blue Knights took Palmer Field early Sunday afternoon aiming to serve up the same against their counterparts from the Woodbridge regional school.
Preferably in the regulation seven innings, mind you.
But definitely with a sense of being overdue. Last year, on this same Palmer Field, Southington had lost to Amity in the Class LL final. Three years ago, in the final against Newington, they got jobbed (as many in Southington still aver) on the infamous “missed home plate” call.
And then there was the notion of tying the bow, of following up the softball team’s epic win and capping off a banner year for Southington High School athletics. Football in the fall, gymnastics in the winter, Dube’s dramatics on Saturday night.
Why not make it a Grand Slam? Four state championships in a single year. The blue and white populace in uniform and out was still abuzz Sunday after Saturday’s softball affair.
“It was amazing,” said Joe Rivera, the pitcher who will be taking his right arm to UConn next year. “They were able to pull it off, keep fighting till the end.”
Rivera and the Knights endeavored to do the same Sunday. It just wasn’t happening.
Rivera, coming on in relief of starter Kyle Cole, ended an Amity threat with the game still tied 2-2 in the top of the fifth, but the Knights left the sacks loaded in the bottom of the frame and it proved to be the pivot point.
The Spartans broke through with four runs in the sixth and tacked on two more in the seventh.
Southington loaded the bases again in the sixth, again came away empty. A double play ended it in the seventh.
The Knights had the fight Sunday, they just didn’t have the artistry that had led them back to the state final despite losing much of the starting lineup from the year before.
Even Rivera was not his usual dominant self. The kid who went 6-0 with a sub-1.00 earned run average this spring wound up saddled with the loss.
“We came all this way, worked so hard in the offseason to get to this point, and to lose — it doesn’t mean that our hard work didn’t pay off, it’s just hard knowing you worked that hard to get this far and came up with nothing,” Rivera said. “But I love the way the guys went out and played like there was no tomorrow.”
It is the hometown tendency to put a positive spin on defeat, to lean on the perspective of the big picture.
In this case, it’s not much of a stretch. Southington athletic director Eric Swallow and Southington athletic trainer Lori Martin stood outside the Blue Knights dugout when all was said and done Sunday. They had just seen Southington teams play in three state finals in a span of four days, had witnessed each of the three state titles the Blue Knights had managed to bring home in the 2013-14 school year.
They were asked to size up where the softball win fit in on the list of all-time greatest Southington moments.
Julie Bolduc’s perfect game to win the 1983 state softball championship?
The 16-inning Southington-Shelton state championship baseball epic in 1976?
The come-from-behind victory over Fairfield Prep in the 2013 football final?
“Best ever? Man, I tell you, a walk-off to take the title is pretty impressive,” said Martin.
“How about [Stephen] Barmore’s pick-six in the state [football] championship?” queried Swallow.
“That was a great moment,” Martin agreed.
“Pure drama was the home plate game against Newington,” Swallow resumed.
“That was a bad one.”
“That was a bad one. I don’t know how they ever pulled that off.”
Swallow trailed off, came back.
“It’s been an unbelievable 5-6 years.”
“We have seen a lot,” Martin agreed. “We’ve seen a lot of good games, good competitive teams.”
On Sunday, the Southington baseball team didn’t fall into the first category, but with a final mark of 20-4, it certainly fits into the second.
Yes, in the big picture — and after such a masterful scholastic sports year, that term cannot be denied Southington — coach Charlie Lembo’s baseball team should take its place within the frame.