SOUTHINGTON - The start time for the Class LL state tournament first-round matchup between New Britain and Southington baseball on Wednesday was moved up to 3 p.m. to avoid the rain in the forecast for later in the day.
That still wasn’t enough to complete a thrilling marathon that has yet to be decided.
The No. 30 Hurricanes and No. 3 Blue Knights battled into the 10th inning, fighting off heavy rain for an inning and a half before the 2-2 game was postponed until Thursday at 3 p.m., where a shocking upset or a walk-off thriller will occur.
“That’s baseball,” Southington head coach Charlie Lembo said with a laugh as massive puddles began to form around the Blue Knights’ dugout.
Southington (17-3) will pick up a 10th inning rally when play resumes on Wednesday, as Jake Neuman will be on second base with one out after drawing a leadoff walk to start the frame.
“We have a runner on second, and we just need one base hit to win the game,” Lembo said. “That’s what our mindset is going to be.”
New Britain (11-10) almost secured the upset win before chaos ensued in the eighth, when a golden chance for the Hurricanes was squashed in an instant.
With Danniel Rivera at second and one out, Justin Adorno punched a grounder towards right field that just squeaked by a diving Kevin McIntyre at first. Nobody backed up McIntyre, allowing Adorno to reach and put runners at the corners. But Rivera took off for home, and the throw just beat him for the second out of the inning. As the throw came home, Adorno scampered for second and was thrown out easily, completing a wild 4-2-6 double play to send the game to the bottom of the eighth.
New Britain head coach Roberto Mercado ran home to argue the out call on Rivera, who was retired on a very close call, but the ruling stood. The throw easily beat Rivera to the plate, but whether catcher Jake DelMonte secured a tag of not was much more unclear.
“[Rivera] made a great attempt to try to make a miss there,” Mercado said. “The umpire said he had him. It was a pretty close play and the ump called him out, so it is what it is.”
Still, Mercado’s group enters the rain delay in position to earn a win after the duo of Rivera and Rufino Santiago held Southington scoreless from the second inning to the 10th, and hitless from the fifth inning to the ninth. The two hurlers subbed in and out three times to keep the Blue Knights off-balanced, keeping them in check after allowing 13 runs when the two teams met in the regular season.
“A couple days ago I had a sick idea when I was sitting at home and I thought ‘what if this would work?’” Mercado said of his unorthodox pitching strategy. “That’s a great hitting team…I thought we had to do something unconventional. It worked for the most part. We’re still playing. They both did an excellent job.”
The plan worked perfectly in the bottom of the sixth when a pair of walks to Kyle Leifert and Jack Meade set up the Blue Knights with a two-out rally, but once again, Mercado turned to Rivera, who came on and fanned Jake DelMonte on three pitches to send the game tied into the seventh.
The Hurricanes entered the previous inning trailing by a run when a deep double by Michael Gajda scored Adorno from first base to tie the game in the sixth. It remained the only run scored by either team since the bottom of the first, and New Britain hopes it can keep holding the heavily favored Blue Knights at bay until the offense can break through, though both Rivera and Santiago will be unavailable to pitch Thursday
“The guys are still competing,” Mercado said. “Nobody thought we would still be playing baseball tomorrow in the 10th inning against the No. 3 team [in Class LL]. Hopefully we can come in tomorrow and get the job done and finish it.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org