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CHESHIRE — While the rain drizzled here and there for seven innings, nothing pestered the Cheshire Rams the way Hamden’s Jake Jovia did in Monday afternoon’s 6-2 defeat.
Jovia, a six-foot, 175-pound right-hander, scattered five hits, two walks and a hit batsman, struck out four and needed just 94 pitches in a complete-game effort.
No Ram touched third base after the second inning in a matchup between SCC Hammonasset rivals.
“We’re a young team. We keep giving extra outs; we keep giving extra bases,” Cheshire head coach Mike Lussier said after his club’s third consecutive loss, which dropped the Rams to 2-9 overall and 1-5 in the Hammonasset.
“But I told the kids, ‘You gotta keep your head up.’ We’re young, we’re learning everyday,” Lussier added. “It’s a classroom for us out here and every game you gotta take something and learn from it.”
And what did the Rams learn Monday afternoon? Two things: Defense matters and Daniel Zawalich can spin the baseball.
In what Lussier called Zawalich’s “best outing” of the season, the Cheshire junior maneuvered his way in and out of trouble against a Hamden team ranked No. 9 in the new GameTime CT poll. The right-hander hurled 86 pitches over four-plus innings in the losing effort.
“Every outing he’s been coming in he’s gotten better,” Lussier said.
Zawalich was tested early when Hamden’s slugging shortstop Jake Pisano dug in with a runner on second and one out in the first inning. Pisano entered the day batting north of .580, according to stats on hamdenhighbaseball.com, but was fooled when he swung and Zawalich’s curveball bottomed out on him for the second out of the frame.
“I knew that these kids could swing the bat, so I knew I had to throw off-speed and I knew I would have to hit the outside corner pretty well or else they would tee off on me,” Zawalich said.
Pisano would avenge his strikeout the next time around when he sent a jam-shot fastball into shallow centerfield for a RBI single, tying the game at 2-2.
Zawalich’s most impressive inning came in the fourth, when the Green Dragons (10-1, 4-1 Hammonasset) started the inning with a single, a double and a walk to load the bases.
With his pitch count in the mid-60s, Zawalich went back to his curveball and induced two sacrifice flies to right field. Though the damage was done, and the lead gone, one hard hit ball in a gap would have sent the game on a downward spiral. Instead, the Rams hung around.
“Coming in, just trying to upset, trying to really show that we can play and we can hang with these good teams,” Zawalich said on his approach against the the team that stands second in the Class LL rankings.
Cheshire stayed in it, but in a socially distant way. Luca Raccio knocked a long double in the third inning in a bid to start a two-out rally. Instead, a swinging strikeout ended the inning.
Zawalich led off the fifth with a line-drive single up the middle, but a 6-3 double play put a damper on Ram plans.
In the last two frames, Jovia retired the side in order.
“You take ’em anyway you can, and they did,” Lussier said of the Green Dragons.
Defensively, the Rams left room for improvement. The defining moment came in the fifth inning with one runner on and two outs. A ground ball to standout senior shortstop Ryan Scialabba would normally have ended the inning. Instead, he booted it and extended the inning.
Catcher Angel Rivera, Hamden’s No. 9 hitter, stepped up next and hit a ball about a mile high to shallow left field. It seemed as though Scialabba had it under control until left fielder Nick Valente charged in and called off his shortstop. In the confusion, neither caught the ball and two runs scored.
The Rams made three errors over the course of the game.
“It should’ve been a 2-2 game,” Lussier said. “We gave them four runs.”
The Dragons made one error: a booted ball by Pisano at shortstop in the second inning. That set the table for Cheshire third baseman Anthony Tirado’s two-run double to left field. The sophomore gave his team an early lead that lasted all of half of an inning.
“This game is a game of failure,” said Lussier. “It keeps you humble.”
Though Cheshire was humbled, it was not deterred. The Rams will make the trip to Madison for a crossover matchup with the No. 1 Hand Tigers (11-0) on Wednesday afternoon.
“We just wanna upset the teams that we can,” Zawalich said. “We just really wanna upset these teams and show them that we can play.”