Cadets denied berth in baseball final

Percentages went out the window when it came down to deciding if No. 2 Montville High or No. 19 St. Joseph High would advance to the Class M baseball state championship game when the teams met in the semifinals at Senator Thomas Dodd Stadium in Norwich on Tuesday.

Defying all the odds, even moreso than long-shot St. Joseph’s postseason run, Montville rallied back with four runs in the seventh inning to force extra innings and then scored in the bottom of the ninth inning to claim a 7-6 victory.

“I’ve never been involved in a comeback like this in a game of this magnitude,” said Indian head coach Phil Orbe, whose squad improved to 25-2 and will play Sheehan of Wallingford for the title on Friday at 7 p.m. at Palmer Field. Sheehan (20-4) defeated East Catholic, 3-1, in the other semifinal.

“You had to have faith and this was a testament to the kid (Isaiah Mack). He is an underrated player and has had a great year for us.”

A junior who was 1-for-3 batting out of the five-hole, Mack singled through the middle with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth inning to complete Montville’s rally from a 6-0 deficit after five innings.

“I wasn’t going to get beat by their best players, two All-State players,” St. Joseph head coach Jim Chaves said of intentionally walking Terry Bowens and Buddy Dewaine to load the bases with one out. “I was going to let somebody else beat us and he did. Credit that kid. He’ll have a memory forever.”

St. Joseph had advanced to the semifinals with wins over Woodland Regional (5-3), Waterford (3-2) and Plainfield (2-0).

“We were 5-7 not so long ago and just started playing our best baseball,” Chaves said after St. Joseph finished 14-10.

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get those last three outs; they are the hardest to get.

“I told them how enjoyable it was to coach this group; to see them grow every day. We were one out away from playing for a state championship. Then we came out and put up another zero; credit Montville.”

The Indians are no strangers to coming from behind, according to Orbe: “We were down 4-3 to Tolland (a 6-4 win in the second round) and 7-3 to Oxford (an 8-7 win in the quarterfinals). The kids never lost faith.”

St. Joseph did its best to test it, however, as the Cadets scored a run in the top of the first on a walk to Mike Rotundo, a single by Matt Laveneziana and Andrew Walsh’s groundout.

They tacked on two runs in the third with Dave Capela doubling home Matt McKernan, who had singled, and Rotundo plating Chris Kirven, who had singled, with an infield hit.

Neil Valesquez reached on a tough infield error in the fourth and rounded the bases when he forced a wild return throw across the diamond on Rotundo’s groundout to shortstop.

Rotundo, armed with a 4-0 lead, never let Montville get a momentum swing, as the righthanded senior was at the top of his game.

“He was throwing very well,” Orbe said of Rotundo. “He was tough out there, battling us pitch for pitch. That was one of the better pitching performances against us this year.”

Rotundo allowed a first inning walk and a fourth inning walk. In that frame a 6-4-3 double play started by Valesquez and turned by Capela erased the runner.

Cadet first baseman Tully Horne stole a base hit away from the Indians with a diving stop to his right to open the third. He took away another at bat with a snatch catch by the tarp in foul territory down the right field line in the sixth.

That out came between three Montville hits, including a two-run double by Jordan Zeppieri to make it a 6-2 game.
Rotundo got the next two batters to leave a runner in scoring position.

St. Joseph looked to get those runs back in the top of the seventh when it loaded the bases, before Bowens on in relief since the sixth, and with a light drizzle starting to fall, enticed two pop-ups to leave the bags full.

Montville carried its hot bats into the seventh. Mack opened the frame with a double, Tommy McDonald singled and Connor Hurley came on in relief for Rotundo.

Doug Delacruz chopped a single through the hole into left field and the score was 6-3.

Hurley got a fielder’s choice grounder to Valesquez, but Quentin Dupery squeezed home a run with a bunt up the third base line.

Leadoff batter Jeremy Sagun flied out to center and the Cadets were one out away from advancing.

Zeppieri singled to left field and the Montville deficit was 6-5.

Bowens stepped in and stroked a hit up the alley in left-center. McKernan cut off the ball and threw to Walsh, who pegged the ball home to Brendan Rush, who came down with a smothering tag to end the inning and send the game into extras.