WORCHESTER, Mass. — Southington Post 72 kept its season alive on Thursday in the Northeast Regional, eliminating the Hampden Maine River Dogs with a 6-2 victory at the College of the Holy Cross’s Hanover Insurance Park.
It was a come-from-behind effort for Southington, as they scored six unanswered runs after falling behind 2-0 in the first inning.
“It’s just the way we live,” Southington manager Marc Verderame said. “We live on the edge and we’re on to tomorrow.”
The big blow came in the top of the sixth as Kyle Leifert laced a bases-clearing triple over the head of Jacob Lorenzo in right field to break a 2-2 tie.
“I’m just thinking about the guys we’ve been playing with for years,” Leifert said. “It just sucks that I didn’t get the opportunity in high school so it was nice to win it for these boys. I love all of them.”
Leifert drove in four of Southington’s six runs after Verderame moved him up from the No. 3 spot in the order to the 2 hole.
However, it was Ethan McDonough’s hustle that put Post 72 in a position to take the lead.
The right fielder beat out a grounder to short with two outs and nobody on. Connor Patenaude would walk and after a pitching change, Sean Crean was hit with a pitch to load the bases to set up Leifert’s three-run triple.
“Ethan McDonough with two outs nobody on hustles out that base hit,” Verderame said. “We end up getting three that inning.”
The original plan for Post 72 on the mound had been to start Ryan Henderson, but Verderame opted to go with Jake Weed, who had thrown just 3 innings over four appearances this summer, sporting a 10.80 earned run average.
“We took some chances today,” Verderame said. “We rolled the dice and went with Weed and Kavanaugh trying to save our guys and they made me look good.”
Weed was unable to get out of the first inning, allowing two runs on one hit and three walks, forcing Verderame to turn to Brendan Kavanaugh with just one out and the bases loaded.
Kavanaugh would escape the jam without any further damage and would go on to toss six scoreless innings in relief.
“We got down 2-0 and it wasn’t looking good at first,” Verderame said. “Kavanaugh came through. He pitched unbelievable.”
The bats finally came alive for Southington in this one, after it had scored just four runs in its previous three games (all losses).
“Nothing’s been dropping all week,” Leifert said. “It was fun to see some hit the grass for once.”
Despite leaving a runner on third with one out in the first, Post 72 would tie the game in the top of the third.
McDonough led off with a walk which was followed by a Patenaude single to center. A Hampden error on a Crean grounder loaded the bases for Leifert who hit a sacrifice fly to center. However, Patenaude got caught in between second and third trying to tag up, leaving Crean on second with two outs.
The Southington speedster advanced to third on a passed ball, setting up a Jeremy Mercier RBI single to tie the game at two.
It would take multiple tries to break the game open, as Southington left runners on base in the third, fourth and fifth innings with chances to take the lead.
Post 72 would squander an opportunity with the bases loaded in the fourth, as Crean bounced into a 6-3 double play to end the inning.
In the fifth, River Dogs second baseman Nate Allain flashed some leather to keep the game tied at two as he made a diving snag on a Josh Panarella line drive and doubled up Mercier at second.
“We’ve had so many opportunities the last couple days and haven’t cashed through,” Verderame said. “We finally did. Kyle Leifert came up big and we’re still alive.
“I’m very proud of [Leifert]. That’s a kid who works hard. He’s batting .380 right now for the season. He’s led the way. He’s one of our best hitters and he came through once again.”
Kavanaugh worked some magic in the bottom half with two Hampden runners in scoring position. The Southington reliever would get a ground out to cut down a runner at the plate and then struck out Gavin Partridge to end the inning.
“I always trust the guys,” Kavanaugh said. “The team is just so bonded. I just believe in my guys so I was trying to pump strikes and get outs. The goal was just outs.
“It was awesome [to get the strikeout to end the fifth]. Panarella set up outside, I flamed the fastball in and got him on the outside corner.”
Southington would tack on another run in the seventh as Hampden reliever Jacques Lebonte struggled to find the strike zone, walking three and hitting two other Post 72 batters.
Hampden was unable to bounce back from a 15-2 loss against Shrewsbury, Mass. Post 397 earlier in the day, becoming the second team (along with Nashua, N.H.) to be eliminated from the Northeast Regional.
For Southington, it will be a quick turnaround as they will take on the loser of Thursday night’s game between Cumberland, R.I. Post 14 and Lawrence, Mass. at 9:30 a.m. on Friday. Post 72 will have their two ace pitchers, Nick Borkowski and Ryan Henderson, available.
“We wanted to save Ryan for tomorrow and have a chance to win this tournament,” Verderame said. “Nobody has their aces left but us. We’ve got [Borkowski and Henderson]. We’re set right now with where we’re going.
“We’re in the driver’s seat in the loser’s bracket. We rolled the dice today. I trust my guys and I trust my offense and they came through.”