June 16, 2014 07:38AM
By Ken Lipshez
MIDDLETOWN — Heads were down and disappointment gnawed at the Southington baseball team as it considered what might have been.
For the second straight season, the Blue Knights marched into the Class LL final against Amity. For the third time in four years, head coach Charlie Lembo directed his club to the final game only to be turned away.
The 17th-seeded Spartans, peaking at the perfect time, rode a 12-hit attack, solid pitching and took advantage of mistakes Sunday in whipping No. 3 Southington, 8-2, before about 3,000 sun-kissed spectators at Palmer Field.
The Spartans (19-9), who beat the Knights in the same spot last year, have now won four state titles and are 3-0 in their last three championship game appearances.
Southington (20-4) is 3-9 in state title games, its last championship coming in 1999. In addition to the two setbacks against Amity, the Knights dropped a heartbreaker to Newington in 2011.
“We came up against a team that came here ready to play and we didn’t,” Lembo said. “We laid an egg. We hung around for awhile, but I don’t think we did anything really well today.”
With the score tied 2-2 after two innings, Southington continued to court disaster while Amity was unable to deliver in the clutch.
The Spartans left the bases loaded in the second and runners in scoring position every frame until they broke through in the four-run sixth.
“We were walking guys (5), falling behind in the count,” Lembo said. “You’re not going to get to the semis or the finals and play a bad team. You can’t give good teams extra chances.
“I though we buried ourselves, not to take anything away from them.”
With Southington ace Joe Rivera (6-1) on in relief and one out, an error by shortstop Joe Daigle on a grounder in the hole by Sebastian DiMauro (2-for-4, 3 runs) lit the fuse in the sixth. DiMauro stole second and took third on an infield out.
Amity, 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position at that point, got an RBI single from Jake Russo and a pair of well-struck run-scoring doubles. The first, by Kyle Mattei, skipped into deep center scoring two. Matt Ronai (2-for-3, 2 doubles, walk) sent Mattei home and Amity enjoyed a four-run bulge.
Southington loaded the bases in the home half of the sixth and knocked out starter Nick Fusco, but DiMauro (2-for-4, double, 2 runs) came on to strike out Josh Makles and get Daigle on a fly to center.
The Knights had reached the end of the road.
Fusco (8-1) scattered seven hits, walked two and struck out two. DiMauro mopped up with two scoreless frames, striking out two and inducing a game-ending double play.
“They had command throughout the game, working ahead in the count mostly,” Amity coach Sal Coppola said. “It seems like they started pitching really, really well when it counted.”
Southington’s left-handed starter, Kyle Cole, struggling to locate his fastball, gave up six hits in 4 2/3 frames. He also walked four and hit a batter.
“He was starting to elevate the fastball,” Lembo said. “He’d fall behind in the count and when you start elevating, they’re going to start teeing off.”
Rivera, coming off a troublesome outing in the 6-5 win over Fairfield Warde in the semifinals, was tagged for six hits in 1 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs (two earned), walked one and struck out one.
“You fall behind in the count and you feel like you have to start coming up a little bit with the fastball,” Lembo said. “Joe’s fastball is good when it’s around the knees.”
The Spartans artfully constructed a run in the first inning.
Leadoff hitter DiMauro laced a single to center. Chris Winkel’s bunt slipped between the mound and third for an infield hit. Both runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Anthony Capozziello and DiMauro scored on Russo’s fielder’s-choice grounder to second.
The Knights responded.
Zac Susi punched an infield hit off Fusco’s glove. Rivera fought out of an 0-2 hole to line a single to right. A looping ball to short right-center by Liam Scafariello grabbed some turf to load the bases.
Adam Wilson (2-for-3) rapped a two-run single to right, but the 2-1 lead was short-lived with two infield hits and two walks producing the game-tying tally in the top of the second. Amity again put the leadoff runner on when Eli Oliphant walked. A single by Josh Sobitsky and another free pass set the table for a shot up the middle by Capozziello that second baseman Makles stopped on a dive, but couldn’t get to first in time.
“We were feeling really strong throughout the end of the year,” Coppola said.
“We were thinking anybody could go up there and get a hit.”