MERIDEN — It was a tough loss, but the future is bright.
That was the sentiment of Maloney baseball coach Ricky Marrero after his No. 9 Spartans team lost 13-11 to No. 25 New Canaan in the second round of the Class LL state tournament Wednesday at Ceppa Field.
“We’re loaded next year and we’re developing a powerhouse at our school,” Marrero said, whose squad finished at 15-7 a year after reaching the Class L state final. “15 wins each season is expected of us at this point.”
For senior Kyle Valentine, the loss stung a little more.
“I felt like I had a little chip on my shoulder coming into today because we lost to them in the state championship for football, and I’m a quarterback,” Valentine said. “Obviously it was a different sport, but today I just wanted to see the ball well and make a play for my team.”
Despite the loss, Valentine came out to perform. He went 1-for-1 with three walks and four RBI.
Other standouts included Tyler Duffy, who hit a leadoff home run and struck out eight on the mound. His catcher, Raf Rodriguez, hit a three-run homer.
Duffy and Rodriguez also made a critical defensive play in the top of the seventh inning to throw a runner out at home plate.
“Wherever the runner is, I have to make my play no matter what it is,” Rodriguez said. “My mindset was no matter how much we were down, we had a chance to win the game.”
New Canaan started the game with a bang after leadoff hitter Danny Rogers hit a solo home run off of Duffy on the second pitch of the game. Duffy responded immediately with a leadoff solo shot of his own to tie the game.
Valentine would collect his first RBI of the game on a single that drove in Jesus Arraez and, in the bottom of the third, Valentine hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Rodriguez to put the Spartans up 3-1.
“We were aggressive in the zone today and we were confident,” Marrero said. “It was just one of those days where we had the short end of the stick. It wasn’t due to a lack of effort, because we had a great effort.”
The game turned into a see-saw affair entering the fifth inning. New Canaan speedster Jack Sheffield reached on a bunt single. Marrero was visibly upset with the call, believing that Sheffield was out.
William Langford reached base on an error, which put two players on with nobody out. The next batter, Graham Ladley, advanced both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, and that set up the No. 9 hitter. Jake Somma. to blast a three-run dinger to left field, putting the Rams ahead 4-3.
The Spartans responded in the bottom of the fifth. Valentine and Luis Delgado drew bases-loaded walks to give Maloney a 5-4 lead, but it did not last.
New Canaan scored seven runs in a sixth inning highlighted by walks, errors, and clutch hitting by Somma and Rogers.
Marrero took exception to several calls by the umpire, but did not make any excuses after the game.
“It comes down to us executing and we didn’t do it in that inning,” Marrero said. “They had the same umpiring that we did, so I’ll never put it on the umps. For the most part, they called a good game.”
With the game seemingly out of reach, Maloney refused to give up. In the bottom of the sixth, Jedian Morales was hit by a pitch and Griffin Papallo walked to put two men on.
After New Canaan got the next two men out, Rodriguez clubbed his three-run bomb that brought the Spartans back from the dead.
“I was even on the count,” Rodriguez said. “I got up in the box and got a pitch that was up.”
New Canaan responded in the top of the seventh inning with another clutch RBI hit by Somma.
With the Rams up 13-8, the Spartans attempted a rally.
After a groundout, Morales got on with another hit-by-pitch. Papallo singled and another hit-by-pitch on Duffy loaded the bases.
Arraez got one run in with a sacrifice fly that made it 13-9. Raf and Joe Rodriguez both drew walks to load the bases for Valentine, who drew yet another walk to collect his fourth RBI in the game and make the score 13-10.
When it seemed that the improbable was going to happen, the Rams (11-11) got their command back and got the final out to win the game and advance to the quarterfinals to face top-seeded Newington.
“We scratched and clawed in the last inning,” Marrero said. “We were one swing away from winning the baseball game which is pretty impressive when you give up 13 runs.”
Southington 2, Trumbull 1: Down to their last strike in the top of the seventh, the No. 12 Blue Knights got a two-run double by Owen Widger to knock off the No. 5 Eagles in Trumbull.
Reliever Aidan Buck, who had closed out the last of the sixth, came back for the bottom of the seventh and worked 1-2-3 inning with a pair of strikeouts to seal the second-round victory that sends Southington (15-7) on to Saturday’s quarterfinals against No. 4 Faifield Warde.
That will be a rematch of last year’s Class LL state final, won by Warde, 7-5. The Mustangs (17-5) advanced to Saturday’s quarterfinals by defeating No. 13 Amity 9-7 in Fairfield.
Next door in Trumbull, Buck and starting Southington pitcher Frank Boutot Jr. combined on a two-hitter. Boutot went 5 1/3 innings, allowing the two hits while walking five and fanning two. The one Trumbull run was plated in the first inning on a sacrifice fly.
Southington’s winning rally in the seventh was sparked by singles from Colin Crowley and Caden Angelo.
It was the second straight 2-1 tournament victory for the Knights. They beat CCC rival Glastonbury in Southington on Tuesday behind C.J. Pierce’s four-hitter. Pierce threw just 81 pitches in going the distance. He struck out six and walked none.
SHS also mustered only four hits, but managed to produce the winning runs on a dropped shallow fly ball in the second inning. Tyler Blumetti went 2-for-4.
Nonnewaug 7, Sheehan 4: The No. 19 Titans saw their season come to a close at 12-11 with the second-round loss in Woodbury to the No. 3 Chiefs (19-3)
After No. 1 Woodland and No. 2 Ellington lost Tuesday, Nonnewaug was the highest seed to reach the second round in a upset-special Class M bracket that saw as many underdogs advance as favorites, including No. 31 Suffield and No. 32 Foran.
The Titans had advanced with a 7-2 victory over No. 14 Windham Tech at the ECSU Complex in Mansfield. Shaking off an early 1-0 deficit, Sheehan produced a pair of three-run innings — one in the third and the other in the fifth.
All the runs in the third came with two outs and nobody on. Anthony MarkAnthony singled, Josh Mikulski doubled and both scored on a triple by Tony Sutera. Matt Moconyi’s ground-rule double made it 3-1.
In the fifth, Mikulski singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Moconyi before Kade Marcantonio (single), Paul Gorry (RBI double) and Landon Cantelle (RBI single) produced a crooked number.
Cantelle and Mikulski both finished 3-for-4. Moconyi and MarkAnthony were 2-for-3.
Senior right-hander Aidan Caraballo got the pitching win, scattering five hits over six innings. Trevor Venoit finished up in the seventh.