MERIDEN - It was a moment 25 years in the making and the Southington American Legion baseball had no intention to let it slip away.
Down 6-5 with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 2 of the state championship series, it looked like Ellington was set to force a third and deciding game later Saturday afternoon at Ceppa Field.
Andrew Owsianko had other plans though.
With Josh Panarella and Brayden Cooney on first and second base, Owsianko ripped a line drive to the left field gap and Ellington’s Dakota Aldrich slipped as he watched Cooney come in to score the game-winning run and Southington captured its first state title since 1993 with the 7-6 win over Ellington.
The celebration ensued.
“Off the bat I honestly thought it was out but I didn’t get enough,” Owsianko said. “But it’s alright you know, I got a double and it doesn’t matter, it’s for the team so as long as I got those two runs it didn’t matter.”
Southington got on the board first with a solo home run by Jeremy Mercier in the bottom of the first inning. Dan Topper added to the early lead with a RBI double in the second to make it 2-0.
With the offense clicking early, Ryan Henderson was sturdy on the mound for Southington and the defense behind him was equally impressive, converting three double plays in the first four innings, stranding four Ellington runners on base.
“The middle infield was tremendous and defense was tremendous all season long,” Southington coach Marc Verdarame said. “The outfield, the middle infield kept getting those big double plays. You’ve got to have those in wood bat leagues, every run counts and these guys came out here and wanted to win. They made the plays and that’s what it comes down to.”
Ellington’s offense finally got to Henderson in the top of the fifth inning with four runs.
Aldrich had a bases-clearing double to give Ellington the 3-2 lead and then Kevin Smith helped himself out with a RBI single.
Smith took the mount in the bottom of the fifth inning with his first lead to work with.
It didn’t last long though.
Brandon Kohl drew a one-out walk and then was moved to third with a double from Cooney. Kohl scored on a passed ball and Owsianko drove him in in with a sacrifice fly.
The back and forth game continued.
In the top of the sixth inning, Ellington reclaimed its lead on a RBI single from Ryan Decker.
Facing a deficit again, Southington’s Panarella stepped into the batter’s box with Topper and Mercier on base. After a pair of foul balls just missing the left and right field lines, Panarella ripped a ball to third base and Ellington first baseman Decker committed an error missing the catch on the throw.
Ellington’s Chase Kidd put his team up 6-5 in extra innings before the game-deciding bottom of the eighth inning to end Southington’s long championship drought.
“That’s unbelievable,” Verdarame said. “These kids every time, comeback kids. I can’t say it enough. The hearts of champions down to our last out there.”
With the win Southington advances to the Northeast Regional Tournament held in Shrewsbury, Mass. August 8-12.
Dan Orencole can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org