AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL: Cheshire rides Bankowski’s 1-hitter into South Division Super Regional

AMERICAN LEGION BASEBALL: Cheshire rides Bankowski’s 1-hitter into South Division Super Regional

CHESHIRE — The Cheshire American Legion baseball team advanced to the Southern Division Super Regional in dominant fashion Wednesday, defeating the Post 60 Danbury Westerners 10-0 in five innings at Burt Leventhal Field.

The top-seed in “Pod E” of the state tournament, Cheshire went 3-0 with 2-1 walk-off wins over No. 4 seed Danbury and No. 3 Stratford before beating Danbury again behind the one-hit pitching of Michael Bankowski in the Pod final.

“We played good,” Cheshire head coach John Escoto said. “Bankowski pitched great, we put the bat on the ball and were able to take advantage of some miscues on the bases.”

Cheshire bats got this one going from the first pitch. Post 92 pounced on Danbury starter Ryan Dilillo for four runs in the first inning.

“You pretty much know you’re going to win right off the bat when that happens,” Bankowski said of the run support in the first inning. “We scored 10 and that’s what happened.”

The initial Cheshire rally started on a one-out double by shortstop Ben Schena. Centerfielder Ryan Strollo worked a walk and third baseman Ian Battipaglia singled to load the bases.

Cheshire then capitalized on the first of a few Danbury mistakes, as a Dilillo wild pitch allowed Schena and Strollo both to score and moved Battipaglia to third with just one out.

“They’re aggressive,” Escoto said of the baserunning of Strollo and Schena. “They make teams pay for any miscue; they take advantage.”

Schena and Strollo were a combined 3-for-3 on the day. They also combined to draw four walks and score five runs.

“It’s a momentum-setter, especially because we know the guys behind us can get the job done and score us,” said Strollo. “When we get on we know that we can trust our teammates to get us in.”

Strollo also had a two-run single in the second inning that pushed the Cheshire lead to 6-0 and chased Dilillo from the game after he recorded just four outs.

While the Cheshire bats continued to extend the margin, Bankowski was lights-out on the mound, striking out four and allowing just three baserunners through the first four frames.

“We knew [he had his stuff] after the first two batters; he broke both their bats,” Escoto noted. “They just mis-hit the ball. So, we knew his ball was moving. He pitches to contact and, when his ball is moving, he’s tough.”

Cheshire continued to add to its lead, tacking on a run in the third on Eli Battipaglia’s RBI single off Danbury reliever Frailyn Rodriguez.

Rodriguez bounced back, getting left fielder Ryan Cyr to ground into 4-6-3 double play to end the frame, but the Cheshire bats came back again in the fourth with Schena and Strollo leading the way.

Schena ripped a leadoff single to left and stole second, one of Cheshire’s five stolen bases on the afternoon, and Strollo worked a walk. Rodriguez picked up two quick outs before second baseman Paul Villeco and first baseman Ben Shadeck ripped back-to-back singles to extend the lead to 9-0.

“We haven’t been hitting the ball well this tournament so far,” Strollo said. “But today we knew we need to come out and hit, especially because it was a big game.

“We were all ready for it. We got [Villeco] back. Our lineup is back to full strength, so we’re ready for it.”

Villeco came around to score on a wild pitch before the inning was out to extend the lead to 10-0 and put Cheshire in position to win on the mercy rule.

Danbury tried to rally in the fifth, picking up its first hit on a leadoff single by Spencer Barnett, spoiling the Bankowski no-hitter. However, he set down the next three batters to close out the victory.

“It’s unfortunate that he gave it up,” Strollo said of the Barnett single off Bankowski. “He was doing what he was supposed to do. He was throwing strikes, getting outs, getting ground balls and he got the job done.”

Bankowski threw just 65 pitches to get through five innings, which will help give Cheshire options on the mound heading into the South Super Regional, which opens Saturday at Ceppa Field in Meriden.

“I was just trusting my pitches and trusting the defense behind me,” Bankowski said. “They made all the plays. I was throwing strikes and doing well, and they scored some runs for us.”

With Wednesday’s matinee win, Cheshire (25-3) was the first team to advance out of Pod play. Hamden advanced a few hours later by defeating Washington in Pod F.

“We feel good,” Escoto said. “We’re confident. The other teams [in the Super Regional] are really good teams, but that’s what we look forward to playing.”

It’s a return trip for Cheshire, which fell to eventual state champion Southington in 13 innings in last year’s South Super Regional final. Cheshire is seeking its first state Legion title since 2014.

Said Strollo: “We’re feeling very strong. We just got everyone back, so I think we’re ready for it. We’ve got a tough bracket and we know we’ve got to come and play, so we’ve got to show up.”