MIDDLETOWN - Even when the Southington baseball team appeared to be facing an unconquerable task during Saturday’s Class LL state championship game against No. 6 Staples, head coach Charlie Lembo’s confidence never wavered.
Sure, the Blue Knights were facing one of the best arms in the state in Wreckers starter Chad Knight, a Duke commit and draft pick of the New York Yankees, who was working on his second straight complete-game shutout after mowing down the defending champs in Cheshire to win the state semifinals on Tuesday, but Lembo had seen his group come through in big spots before. In fact, he had seen his Southington team pack enough late game heroics to fill an entire season in one tournament run and there was little doubt in Lembo’s mind his team was capable of pulling off one more miraculous comeback.
So when the Blue Knights picked up their bats to face Knight in the bottom of the seventh while trailing 3-0, Lembo was ready to see yet another encore performance, because his team hadn’t given him a reason not to believe it was coming.
“I thought we were going to win,” Lembo said. “I really did. I thought we were going to load the bases and get a run, maybe get a bomb here or there or a ball in the gap…I really thought we were going to win.”
The Blue Knights almost fulfilled their coach’s prophecy by putting the first two runners on base before Knight settled back down to end Southington’s season, but even a painful loss in the state championship game couldn’t overshadow the miraculous run they enjoyed for four games once the tournament began.
It all started in the first round against New Britain, when heavy rain delayed a thrilling finish that saw Billy Carr’s walk-off single erase a one-run deficit in the 11th. The very next day, Carr came through again, hitting another walk-off to shock Darien. One day later, Southington sweated through another thrilling finish, turning a hard line drive into a game-ending double play, escaping a jam that saw Fairfield Ludlowe put runners at the corners with one out in the top of the seventh. The walk-off magic returned in the semifinals thanks to a walk-off double by Andrew Paradis.
After witnessing an unprecedented run of late-inning magic, Lembo and the Blue Knights saw that good fortune sway to the other side in Saturday’s final, as Staples used perfectly-placed bunts and pounced on untimely errors to end Southington’s bid for its first state title in 20 years.
“We lived with that when we were winning all of those one-run games, but you have to look at it from both sides,” Lembo said.
While the tournament, and the season, ended in disappointment, it wasn’t enough to wash away the unforgettable moments that preceded the state final, and all of the magic it took to get there in the first place. The Blue Knights don’t have a state championship trophy, but they have a highlight reel of improbable wins that most teams can’t compile in an entire season.
“It’s been great,” Lembo said. “It’s been absolutely fantastic. I enjoyed every moment with these guys. We told them that they’ve done everything we asked and put in the hard work all year long. I love these guys. They were great.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or email@example.com