CROMWELL - Cromwell baseball mastered the art of ‘small ball’ this season. The team used bunts, smart base running and excellent pitching in pursuit of a third straight state title game appearance. They utilized the effective offensive tactic up until the final out of their exciting Class S semifinal game against Thomaston.
The Panthers had struggled from the plate for most of the game and, as daylight gave way to night, were trailing 5-2 entering the bottom of the seventh inning. They were three outs from elimination and in the unfamiliar position of needing to quickly generate runs before the sun set on the Berlin night sky and their season.
It continued to look bleak for the second-seeded Panthers after sophomore Peter Dewey popped-out to center field to start of the final stanza.
Second baseman Mike McNally breathed new life into the weary Panthers when he drilled a shot down the third base line for a single. The reliable senior then stole second base, before senior Kevin Radziewicz walked, bringing the tying run to the plate.
Thomaston’s starting pitcher Blaise Russo had thrown an incredible game, but the high pitch count started to takes its toll on his mighty left arm. Following Russo’s rough start to the final frame, Bear’s manager Robert McMahon decided to replace his starter with the equally powerful Brian Butkevicius.
The pitching change initially looked like a poor decision.
Cromwell’s Logan Lessard connected on Butkevicius’ third pitch and reached first base after his hard infield liner was mishandled, allowing McNally to score. Jake Regula then grounded to first base, which drove in Radziewicz, narrowing the deficit to 5-4, with the potential winning-run coming to the plate.
Cory Baldwin, who had come up big in clutch moments for the Panthers this season, was given the task of extending Cromwell’s season. He did his best, working the pitch count by fouling off three straight pitches, but ultimately he grounded out to second base---ending Cromwell’s comeback attempt and their season.
The fantastic finish was just the icing on the cake for the standing room only crowd at SGT Zipadelli Field inside Sage Park. The enthusiastic fans were treated to a memorable two and a half hour marathon of a game.
The epic tournament game featured a rare third-inning pitching change from Cromwell, who had leaned on their strong pitching staff all season. Lessard started the game from the mound, but had trouble finding his spots against the balanced Bears’ lineup. He began the third inning with a 2-1 cushion, but two doubles and a walked batter later he had dug himself in a 3-2 hole. Cromwell manager Lewis Pappariella decided to make a change and turned the ball over to the team’s ace Regula. Regula made an immediate impact, retiring six of the next seven batters he faced, which included four strikeouts.
The teams battled to a standstill for the next two innings before Thomaston broke the scoring drought in the sixth inning when pinch-running freshman Jared Khan scored following a throwing error. The Bears added their fifth and final run in the top of the seventh when Michael Milius crossed home plate for the game-deciding run.
Thomaston’s celebration was short lived and their championship dreams were crushed four days later when they were blanked by Portland, 8-0. Portland entered the tournament as the 18th seeded team in Class S, but miraculously allowed only two runs in five tournament victories to capture the championship.
The loss to Thomaston ended another stellar season for Cromwell baseball. They finished the regular season 17-3 and added five more wins in the conference and state tournament. The team loses six seniors (McNally, Radziewicz, Lessard, Regula, Maciej Dawidowski, and Shant Darakjian) to graduation. They will be very young next season, with only Baldwin and starting pitcher Tucker Lord entering their senior seasons.