CHESHIRE — The Cheshire baseball team was greeted at the town border by a fire truck escort on Saturday around 4:30 p.m. as the Rams brought back to Cheshire High the program’s first state championship plaque in a quarter of a century.
A day after No. 2 Cheshire’s 1-0 Class LL final victory over No. 4 Ridgefield, the Rams were officially stamped the No. 1 team in Connecticut by state media members in the GametimeCT Top 10 baseball poll.
Make that unaminously stamped.
“We are soaking it in and enjoying it,” Cheshire coach Bill Mrowka said Monday. “It’s awesome being voted No. 1. I think in 1993 we were 24-0 and were also No. 1. It’s something that these kids can hang their hats on.
“We knew we had talented kids, but the kids did a great job bringing everything together. No one else can say that are No. 1 this year, and that’s nice to say.”
“It was unbelievable,” said West Point-bound senior Ben DeLaubell, who was named All-State on Monday along with junior teammate Ryan Strollo. “It’s been remarkable, the best year of my life.”
DeLaubell was the winning pitcher in Saturday’s final and drove in the game’s lone run in the top of the seventh inning with a bases-loaded groundout. He had been a part of Cheshire teams that made quick tournament exits in each of the last three years.
“We’ve gotten knocked out of the state tournament in the first round of the last three seasons and that’s not the best way to end a season,” DeLaubell said. “But to win it in that fashion is a fairy tale ending.”
Cheshire earned the hardware and the No. 1 ranking by marching through a loaded Class LL field.
After dispatching No. 29 New Canaan 6-1 in the first round, the Rams had to sweat out tight wins over No. 13 Glastonbury in the second round (2-0), defending champion and No. 5 Staples in the quarterfinals (4-3) and then No. 1 Fairfield Prep in a 10-inning classic in the semis (5-4) before dispatching Ridgefield in the finals.
Prep finished No. 2 in the state poll. Ridgefield was voted third.
“Any time you put in so much work as a coaching staff to get to the ulitimate goal is great,” Mrowka said. “The kids bought into everything and to see their excitement and pleasure on their faces was great.”
DeLaubell was 3-0 in the postseason, earning the wins over New Canaan, Staples and Ridgefield.
“It’s all my teammates,” DeLaubell said. “I don’t think I’m that good of a pitcher. I credit all of my teammates for my success.
“You can’t win a game if you don’t have good defense or put runs on the board. The least I can do is hit my spots and let everyone else do work behind me,” DeLaubell elaborated. “I only had two strikeouts. It was great defense. No errors, just great defense. That just gives me so much confidence that if I make the pitch they will make the play. Every time the ball was pitched and ball was put in play, I don’t even have to look behind me. I know they are going to make the play.”
Another key cog in Cheshire’s rotation was senior Ben Shadeck, who earned the semifinal victory over Prep in relief. He said it was the Rams’ work ethic and camaraderie that lifted the team to such great heights this spring.
“We may not have the best pitching and we may not have the best hitting, but it’s the bond that you make with the team,” Shadeck said. “The chemistry you build with your teammates is what really sets you apart.”
Mrowka has been in the Cheshire baseball program for 31 years. He’s been at the helm for the last 21 years. Saturday’s victory, the biggest of his head coaching career, was also his 250th overall.
“It means that I’m old,” said Mrowka with a chuckle. “It’s made it special to get a milestone on a special championship. It was nice to get that with a great team and my assistants. I also have to thank all of the other guys came through in the past. We will take the state championship and we will enjoy it as long we possible can.”
Cheshire athletic director Steve Trifone said the members of the team wore their jerseys and medals to school on Monday. He said they will be invited to the next Board of Education meeting where they will be honored.
“It was a tight-knit group of kids that believed in each other,” Trifone said. “There’s a lot of talent on that team, with a strong bond with each other, and I think that went a long way to help them.
“I’m glad for (Mrowka) and his staff. That was neat and impressive that he reached 250 in that game.”