MERIDEN – All good things must come to an end and the Cheshire Post 92 American Legion baseball team was no exception to that rule on Monday night.
Taking on No. 4 seed Naugatuck (18-13) for the second time in the Southern Division Super Regional, No. 1 seed Cheshire (26-5) was looking for revenge after they were defeated by them 2-0 on Saturday. But Nick Delucia was able to quiet the Cheshire bats and stave off their comeback attempts as Naugatuck won 3-2, ending Post 92’s season.
The game started two hours late and a heavy rain storm at 6 p.m. soaked Meriden’s Ceppa Field.
Once the action started, Post 92’s starting pitcher Rob Roles was cruising through the Naugatuck lineup. However, he ran into trouble in the fourth inning. He hit the first batter he faced in the frame with a pitch. And the next batter, Austin Verab, drilled a long single over the center fielder’s head to put runners on the corners with no outs.
Roles was able to recover and strikeout the next batter, but he wasn’t out of the inning quite yet. The first run crossed the plate on an infield single by Michael Natkiel. With the bases loaded and only one out, Nathan Deptula tapped an RBI single into no man’s land between the pitcher, first baseman and second baseman.
After Naugatuck grabbed the 3-0 lead, it was time for Ben Schena to pitch in relief for Roles.
“I honestly didn’t know the bases were loaded until the umpire told me,” Schena said. “So I just tried to stay confident and go in there with the mindset that they wouldn’t be able to hit my stuff.”
Well, Naugatuck couldn’t hit his stuff. He escaped the bases loaded with one-out jam to keep Post 92 in the game. Schena would go on to pitch the final 3.2 innings without giving up a run or a hit.
Post 92 coach John Escoto said Schena’s impressive outing was nothing new.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid. He has been doing that his whole life,” Escoto said. “He wants to compete and he wanted the ball. He just wants it - such a competitive kid. That’s why he is successful and that is why he will be successful in college.”
The Post 92 offense didn’t go down without a fight. In the bottom of the sixth inning, Andrew DeClement knocked in the first Cheshire run with an RBI double off of relief pitcher Ryan McCarthy. Ben Shadeck was able to keep the rally going with a base hit up the middle to bring the game to 3-2. However, Eli Battipaglia struck out to end the inning.
After Schena held Naugatuck scoreless in the top of the seventh inning, it was Cheshire’s last chance to plate the tying and/or game-winning run in the bottom of the inning.
With the tying run on base and two outs, it was Michael Mercaldi who stepped up to the plate. Mercaldi came into the game to replace Ian Battipaglia, who injured his finger while sliding into second base in the third inning.
“That hurt, especially his bat and he is such a threat on the bases,” Escoto said of losing Ian early on in the game. “It hurt, but hopefully he will be OK.”
Mercaldi struck out to end the game, but Ian was one of his first teammate’s to pick him up. Escoto said he was not surprised to see his leadership.
“The core of this group has all played together since they were 8-years old,” Escoto said. “So, they are all best friends and they are all the same. I couldn’t tell you who the leader on this team is because everyday it is somebody different.”
The Post 92 team is made up of a lot of veterans. So, Escoto is not too sure about who will be returning for next summer. Schena, Shadeck and DeClement are among the players who will no longer be eligible to play next season because of their age. But he said as many as four-to-six players could return.
Even though Post 92 did not get the result they had hoped for, Escoto said he could not be prouder of the work they put in all season.
“(Assistant coach) Kevin Strollo and myself have coached most of these guys since they were little,” Escoto said. “We love these guys. They are just gritty, hard-nosed kids and we didn’t win, but that is not for a lack of effort. They have been a pleasure. You don’t have to motivate them, they just show up everyday ready to play and you can’t ask for anything more.”