SOUTHINGTON - Thursdayâ€™s first round matchup between the New Britain and Southington baseball teams in the Class LL state tournament took three days to complete, as frequent bouts of heavy rain continued to delay the gameâ€™s progress. By the time it was over, both teams felt they had provided enough drama to fill a full 36 hours of game action.
After play resumed for the last time on Thursday afternoon, Danniel Rivera belted a go-ahead home run in the 11th inning to put the No. 30 Hurricanes on the brink of a monumental upset, only to see the No. 3 Blue Knights storm back and win a 4-3 thriller thanks to a walk-off single by pinch hitter Billy Carr.
The contest that was originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon was pushed back to Wednesday, when it was suspended by rain in the bottom of the 10th. The action that ensued from the time play resumed on Thursday until the final 0-2 pitch to Carr in the 11th was enough to fill the prior nine innings that were played the day before.
â€śThat was a heck of a baseball game,â€ť Southington head coach Charlie Lembo said to sum up the wild affair that seemed to have a little bit of everything.
The first moment of the third leg of the game was a fitting tease to the madness that was yet to unfold, as sophomore reliever Chris Gibbs tried a hidden ball trick for the Hurricanes (11-11), faking a throw to second on a pickoff attempt of Southingtonâ€™s Jake Neuman.
Gibbs never threw the ball, but the New Britain dugout erupted in a roar of artificial panic, as Rivera and second baseman Justin Adorno ran to the outfield towards a ball that wasnâ€™t actually rolling from their grasp.
The Blue Knights (18-3) didnâ€™t budge, but Gibbs had another Houdini act up his sleeve, navigating through a bases-loaded jam with one out by forcing Kyle Leifert to pop out to Rivera, and striking out Bryce Worth looking on a 3-2 fastball, when one pitch out of the zone would have ended the Hurricanesâ€™ season.
â€śThat was a really tough spot to go into a game,â€ť New Britain head coach Roberto Mercado said of Gibbsâ€™ effort in the 10th. â€śHe did a really good job.â€ť
Rivera led off the top of the 11th and unloaded on a 1-0 fastball from Vince Spizzoucco, belting it over the left center field fence to ignite the Hurricanesâ€™ dugout and give the team its first lead since it was 1-0 in the top of the first over 24 hours prior.
â€śWeâ€™ve been playing against him since little league,â€ť Carr said of Rivera. â€śHeâ€™s been putting a hurting on us since we were 12 years old, and he did it again today.â€ť
Riveraâ€™s titanic blast was his third hit of the game, and in his final high school at-bat, used that clutch home run to end his New Britain tenure with exactly 100 hits.
â€śIt was unbelievable,â€ť Rivera said. â€śI knew once he threw a ball that he was going to try and come back in and throw a strike. I was prepared the whole way. It felt good to give my team the lead and give us a boost.â€ť
Heading back to the dugout after the top of the 11th, it was the Blue Knights that needed a boost, and they got an immediate one thanks to a leadoff single up the middle by Jack Meade. Jake DelMonte followed with a sacrifice bunt to set up Andrew Paradis, who was struggling through an 0-for-5 day when he stepped to the plate.
â€śI just needed to get the job done,â€ť Paradis said. â€śThat was it. That was our season.â€ť
Paradis did the job by stroking an RBI double down the left field line to tie the game and put the winning run in scoring position. Jake Romano flied out for the second out, and Lembo called on Carr for his first action of the game. Carr quickly fell behind 0-2 before slapping a single into the gap in left center field to spark the pandemonium from the home crowd, while Carrâ€™s teammates mobbed him at second base.
â€śI knew I had to swing at a strike, and I hit it the other way,â€ť Carr said after the game, with his Gatorade-soaked jersey slung over his shoulder. â€śI just did what I could do with the pitch.â€ť
Carrâ€™s heroics ended a violent emotional roller coaster that ended with Southington avoiding an upset and securing a date with No. 19 Darien in the second round, which will be played in Southington on Friday afternoon. Heading into the bottom of the 11th, it looked like the Blue Knights might not make it that far.
â€śThe only thing I told the guys was that we have an opportunity,â€ť Lembo said of his rallying cry prior to the bottom of the 11th. â€śWe have an opportunity to prove what weâ€™re made of, and we had an opportunity to come back.â€ť
For the Hurricanes, the brutal loss represented the consistent growth of a young team that took a heavy favorite to the wire after losing 13-0 to the same Blue Knights at home a month ago.
â€śWe had no business being in that game,â€ť Mercado said. â€śNobody thought we would be here. Iâ€™m so proud of my guys.â€ť
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org