Ellington American Legion Loses to Open State Championship Series

By Danny Atkinson

MERIDEN-Ellington entered its best-of-three state championship series against Southington on a tear sinmomentum held, as Ellington jumped out to a 2-0 lead. In baseball, however, momentum can change with one defensive play and pitch, and this is exactly what happened in the top of the fourth inning,

Following a pair of Ellington errors and a walk by starter Brayden Barone, Southington’s Jeremy Mercier smashed a bases-loaded double to give his squad a 3-2 lead and ultimately secure the win. The score remained the same all night, with Southington gaining a 1-0 series advantage in front of a large crowd at Cessa Field.

It was the second consecutive game in which Mercier had the game-winning hit for Southington. The third baseman hit a 13th-inning grand slam in the team’s super regionals win against Cheshire Tuesday.

Ellington scored twice in the opening three innings. In the bottom of the first, left fielder Dakota Aldrich got things started with one out by jumping on a Nick Borowski pitch down the middle and smoking a line drive to left field for a double. Second baseman Stefan Lesco hit a similar pitch for a line drive single to center and

Aldrich would score on a deep sacrifice fly by third baseman Kevin Smith, with center fielder Brandon Kohl making a difficult catch.

In the third, center fielder Chase Kidd and Aldrich hit singles, with Aldrich advancing to second base on a throw to third. Catcher Josh Panella made an alert play, firing down to third and throwing out Kidd, who had advanced too far off base. Ellington shook off the out however.  Lesco drew a walk and Smith hit a grounder up the middle in which shortstop Jake Romano and second baseman Daniel Topper got crossed up and Romano committed an error, scoring Aldrich and giving Ellington a 2-0 lead.

Ellington’s defense has had frequent struggles during the tournament and they surfaced again in the fourth, undermining Barone’s solid work. Panella reached first to open the inning when Smith misplayed a ground ball to third. Kohl then drew a walk, with Barone throwing four consecutive balls. He made a quality pitch to force first baseman Brayden Cooney to hit a grounder to second, but a possible double play turned into no outs and the bases loaded when Lesco made a poor throw to shortstop Brady Coleman at second, tossing the ball too high.

“To play at this level here, we need to play better defense. It’s been our Achilles heel,” Ellington head coach Heath Kidd said. “I don’t know if it (the struggles) gets in their heads a bit, but they pause and make mistakes. The ground ball before Mercier’s hit was a routine double play. A slow roller, right up to the right side of the bag, boom. It was just a rainbow from Stefan. He’s a good player and he’ll be fine.”

Mercier then stepped to the plate with the against Barone and got ahead in the count 2-0. The next pitch was high and over the heart of the plate and Mercier got all of it, smashing a line drive double deep to center which easily cleared the bases.

“When you get into that situation a good hitter is going to put the ball in play, and he definitely did (laughs),” Kidd said. “It was a beautiful hit, and we have to do better to not put guys in that spot.”

“It’s just part of the game, you’re going to get innings like that,” Barone said. “I tried to pick up the defense myself, but I couldn’t do that tonight. I left the pitch (to Mercier) kind of fat and he was able to drive it to left center field. Sometimes you can’t take those pitches back.”

Borowski recovered from a shaky start to steadily improve his performance against the Ellington offense. After frequently leaving pitches up high and over the plate in the opening innings, Borowski’s pitches showed more movement and he was able to keep hitters off balance. Borowski’s control was excellent throughout the day and he allowed just one walk. Ellington finished with 7 hits. It was the team’s first tournament game in which it did not score at least four runs.

While Ellington was held scoreless in the final four innings, the offense had multiple strong opportunities. The first and more frustrating came in the fourth. Following a line drive single by catcher Aaron Young, first baseman Ryan Decker squared up on a fastball and rifled it to deep center. Kohl managed to catch up to the fading line drive and dove forward to make the catch, before immediately jumping up and firing the ball to the cutoff man. Young, who clearly thought the hit would fall, was easily doubled off first base to end the inning.
In the fifth, right fielder Adam Muzsi singled to open the inning and stole second before advancing to third on a fly ball by Aldrich, but was stranded there when Lesco lined out to shortstop. In the seventh Decker hit a ground ball single with one out, but Borowski earned the final outs on a grounder and fly out to secure the win.

“In the final innings I think we were a little anxious at the plate and felt that time was slipping away a little bit,” Kidd said. “I think the errors were eating on them somewhat. One thing about these guys is that they’re very resilient and have battled back. They have kept their heads in the game.”

Barone similarly improved his pitching throughout the game, particularly his control and ability to locate pitches. Barone displayed a strong fastball and was able to mix his pitches effectively, and regularly jammed hitters or caused them to take off balance swings. In the final three innings Barone did not allow a hitter to advance past first base. He allowed 6 hits.

“I felt I kept them off balance and tried to use my four pitches to the best of my ability,” Barone said.

While there were struggles at other positions, Ellington’s defense at catcher was outstanding. Young threw out three Southington base runners (right fielder Dylan Chiaro, Mercier, designated hitter Andrew Owsinanko) on steal attempts, helping to thwart scoring opportunities on each. The trio of throws were on target and easy to catch, allowing efficient tags to be made.

“Aaron’s really played well throughout the tournament and was great on defense. He’s our guy back there, he works hard and is a student of that craft and had a great game tonight,” Kidd said.

“It’s huge when Aaron is able to make those plays, especially when it’s only one guy on base and he can make that throw to clear the bases and end innings. It gives us a boost of momentum as a team when we get back to the dugout,” Barone said of Young’s throw-outs.

Rain is expected on Saturday afternoon and could affect the start of the second game of the series, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. Legion officials verified that if the game was delayed, they would wait a few hours before officially cancelling it. A third game, if necessary, is scheduled for 4 p.m.

Even after Friday’s tough 3-2 loss, Kidd and Barone each said Ellington’s players continued to have confidence and would have no issues rebounding from it.

“We’ll reset and get some rest, hopefully the weather will cooperate,” Kidd said. “These guys will be ready tomorrow and battle and play better.”

 

 

 

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