Ellington Loses American Legion Championship Series on Walk-Off Hit

By Danny Atkinson 

MERIDEN-Game 2 of the American Legion state championship series between Ellington and Southington was a game of major comebacks and resiliency showed by both teams. Ellington had the first comeback, scoring four runs in the top of the fifth inning to take a 4-2 lead. However, the next three were by Southington. The first two tied the score in the fifth and then the sixth. The final comeback occurred after the game entered extra innings, and ended Ellington’s bid for championship in swift and heartbreaking fashion.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth and Ellington leading 6-5, designated hitter Andrew Owisanko smashed a deep line drive into the left field gap off a pitch by reliever Brady Coleman. Left fielder Dakota Aldrich had difficulty reading the ball of the bat and was ultimately unable to make the catch after losing his footing, with the ball bouncing away from Aldrich. Catcher Josh Panarella and first baseman Brayden Cooney raced around the bases, giving Southington a 7-6 win and setting off a raucous celebration at Ceppa Field.

Southington won its first U-19 state championship since 1993. Ellington has not yet won an American Legion state title.

“These kids are the comeback kids,” Southington head coach Marc Verderame said. “It’s a microcosm of our season and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Southington is a huge baseball town and it means the world to win (a championship). We did it for the town, we did it for ourselves.”

“It’s a heart breaker to lose like that, but Dakota is a big reason why we’re here and that game is not on him,” Ellington head coach Heath Kidd said. “We put up better run support, we don’t make an error here or there, we win the game last night, none of that matters. Dakota is a great outfielder, he slips on that play and that’s how it goes.”

“I thought I had the ball down going off the bat, but I just overran it and lost my footing when I tried to run back to it,” Aldrich said when asked about the walk off hit by Owisanko. “If I didn’t lose my footing, I think I would have made the catch. I’m happy with the way our guys played and if f a few things had gone different ways, I think we win the ballgame.”

Southington and Ellington will each compete in the Northeast Championship beginning on Wednesday in Worcester.

Coleman escaped from a bases-loaded jam and sent it to extra innings in the bottom of the seventh by striking out left fielder Daniel Topper, who was fooled on a pitch high and outside. Ellington immediately got the upper hand against reliever Justin Verrelli. Catcher Aaron Young singled with one out and first baseman Ryan Decker reached on a ground ball that just snuck through the infield. Right fielder Adam Muszi laid a well-placed bunt down the third base line to load the bases and center fielder Chase Kidd put together a strong at-bat against Verrilli, drawing a walk to make the score 6-5.

In the bottom frame, Panarella and Cooney set up Oswianko’s winning hit by cracking a single and walking, respectively.

Rain delayed the game, originally scheduled to begin at 1 p.m., to 5:00. If Ellington had defeated Southington, a final championship game would have followed immediately afterward.

Southington got off to a great start in the bottom of the first when slugging third baseman Jeremy Mercier blasted a high home run over the left field fence against starter Kevin Smith, who left the pitch over the plate. In the following inning, Southington took a 2-0 lead when Topper hit a pitch down the middle for a line drive down the left field line, scoring right fielder Dylan Chiaro.

After struggling with locating pitches and getting ahead of batters in the first two innings, Smith was much more effective in the third and fourth. He located better and either jammed or forced off-balance swings by multiple batters. Smith’s ability to keep Ellington in the game proved pivotal for when the team’s bats finally got on track in the fifth.

In the opening four innings, Ellington consistently struggled to make hard contact against starter Ryan Henderson. He demonstrated strong control and a quality fastball. When the offense did get men on base in the innings, the threats were extinguished by a trio of double plays, each featuring smooth fielding by Southington’s infielders. Kidd stated that he did not feel the offense initially was showing good energy or focus.

“The middle infield was tremendous in getting those double plays. You got to have those in wood bat league,” Verderame said. “Every run counts.”

In the fifth, Ellington finally came alive at the plate, scoring four runs. After a Young single with one out, Decker reached when Cooney dropped a low throw. Muszi then laid down his first excellent bunt to load the bases, and Aldrich cleared them by ripping a slicing double to right-center that just eluded the outfielder’s grasp. Smith followed with a line drive up the middle to make it 4-2.

“After he missed with a curveball on the first pitch, I thought a fastball was coming and just put good wood on it,” Aldrich said of his 3-run double.

Southington quickly equalized things in the bottom of the frame. Kohl drew a walk after Smith threw multiple pitches high and outside and Cooney hit a ground rule double to right. With Owsianko up, a low pitch snuck by Young’s glove for a passed ball, allowing Kohl to score. Owsianko would drive Cooney in with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-4.

The teams would trade runs again in the sixth. Ellington went up 5-4 when shortstop Logan Terry opened the inning with a line drive double to right and scored on a ground ball single by Decker
“On offense, we were able to adjust our approach at the plate after talking a little, and afterwards we were more disciplined and took better swings and multiple guys came up big,” Kidd said.

In the bottom of the sixth, Mike Dubiel entered to replace Smith. Topper and Mercier were each able to make solid contact on tough pitches and earn singles, with Topper advancing to third. Dubiel jammed Panarella and forced a weak grounder to third, but Smith, now playing first, dropped a low throw by Terry that scored Topper and knotted the score at five. The play was another example of an Ellington error which occurred at a particularly poor time and led to unearned runs, a problem which occurred for the team throughout the tournament.

“Our defense wasn’t at its best tonight like it usually is,” Aldrich said. “If we make a few plays here and there, maybe we aren’t going into the eighth only up by one.”

Verrilli came in for Henderson with one out in the seventh and quickly retired Smith and Coleman following a Lesco single. Coleman overcame two Southington walks by striking out Romano and Topper.

“Southington is a great and classy program and it was an honor to compete against them,” Kidd said.

Following the trophy presentations to Southington and Ellington, the All Tournament Team was announced. Young was named to the team at catcher, Aldrich as an outfielder and Lesco as a pitcher. Henderson and Mercier were named the tournament’s Outstanding Pitcher and Most Valuable Pitcher, respectively.

Ellington ultimately went 7-3 in the tournament and won the Northern Division as a number one seed. After losing its opening game to RCP, the team leaped out of the loser’s bracket by winning seven consecutive games, scoring at least four runs in each while recording an 0.40 ERA in the five Super Regional games. Aldrich and Kidd each discussed the run the team’s overall tournament play and the skills and chemistry it exhibited.

“This team is really close and had good pitching and defense all year, and for a few games everything came alive,” Aldrich said. “I know when we go to Worcester we’ll execute well. “

“We’ve worked to improve the program the last few years, and it really showed this season and in the tournament,” Kidd said. “The guys played at their best in a lot of it.”

Ellington will compete in the Northeast Regional Tournament as Connecticut’s B Champ along with Southington, against squads from the remainder of New England. It will face the Massachusetts champion on Wednesday afternoon and then compete in either the losers or winners bracket the next day.

“I feel the players are prepared to compete in the tournament, which is an amazing opportunity, and that we have the talent and ability to win multiple games, particularly if our pitching does well,” Kidd said.

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