AMERICAN LEGION: Cheshire shakes Waterbury, one win from super regionals

CHESHIRE — Put another one in the books for Cheshire Post 92.

The Zone 3 champs won their second game of the American Legion state tournament’s regional round Sunday, defeating Waterbury 7-3 at Burt Leventhal Field.

Cheshire grinded out this game, breaking a 3-3 tie with a four-run sixth inning.

“We’re a solid team,” said Cheshire head coach John Escoto. “I don’t put anything past this group. They’re a gritty bunch of kids.”

Sunday’s win, coming on the heels of Saturday’s 10-0 mercy-rule rout of Stratford, advances Cheshire (27-3) to the Pod F final on Wednesday. With a win there, Post 92 will advance to the Southern Division super regionals at Meriden’s Ceppa Field starting Saturday.

On Sunday against Waterbury, Cheshire struck first in the bottom of the second inning. Ian Battipaglia led off and ripped a single up the middle. Battipaglia swiped both second and third base, then scored on Paul Villecco’s bloop single.

Villecco, in turn, stole second base and came around on a base hit by Evan Sokolic for a 2-0 Cheshire lead.

That lead did not last long. Singles in the top of the third by John Castro and Jalen Monroe sparked a three-run Waterbury uprising off Cheshire starting pitcher Mike Hickey.

Jesse Swartout bunted Waterbury’s leadoff runners into scoring position. Bryant Bonilla plated Castro with a sacrifice fly and, in the wake of Noah Knappe’s infield single, Adrian Velez cracked a two-run single to right field to give Waterbury a 3-2 lead.

The gap could have been larger. After Velez swiped second base, Jalen Kelly singled to right field. Velez, trying to score, was gunned down at the plate by Cheshire right fielder Eli Battipaglia.

Post 92 rode the momentum of that play in the bottom half of the third. Ben Schena led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a throwing error and reached third when Ben Shadeck grounded into a fielder’s choice.

Ian Battipaglia then roped another single up the middle to score Schena and tie the game at 3-3.

That’s where the score stood until the bottom of the sixth. The floodgates to Cheshire’s four-run outburst opened on a two-base error on a ground ball to second by Villecco. Waterbury made another two-base throwing error on Ryan Cyr’s ensuing bunt right back to the box.

That miscue brought Villecco in to score what proved to be the winning run and put Cyr on second base.

Waterbury’s self-inflicted wounds only deepened from there. After Matt Geyda drew a walk and Ryan Strollo singled to center to load the bases, Schena and Shadeck worked back-to-back walks to force in two runs. Two batters later, Cole Escoto drew yet another bases-loaded walk to make it 7-3.

Ian Battipaglia, working in relief of Hickey, closed it out in the seventh.

“We’ve had a lot of games like that this year where we just grind it out and grind out and, somehow, we managed to pull it out at the end,” said Coach Escoto. “We didn’t play great baseball today, but we did enough to win.”

Hickey pitched five innings and gave up six hits. Although he only struck out three batters, his command was excellent and he didn’t give up any walks.

Ian Battipaglia blanked Waterbury over the final two innings and earned the win. At the plate, he went 2-for-4 with two RBI and three stolen bases.

“Their kid wasn’t throwing as hard as most pitchers, so I just tried to stay back and hit the ball up the middle,” said Battipaglia. “Going 2-0 so far [in the tournament] is definitely a big advantage. We now have a couple days off to wait for our next opponent and they’ll have to beat us twice. Our pitching has been great, especially our starters, who have been awesome. We just want to keep rolling.”

The same can’t be said of Stamford, which was eliminated 1-0 by Branford a day after getting upset 2-1 by Guilford. Stamford, the Zone 4 champ, was the de facto No. 1 seed. Instead, the tournament rolls on with new favorites, including Post 92.

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