By Brendan Loy
The bridesmaid jinx is over! For the first time since 1994 — when I was in seventh grade — a Newington High School athletic team is the Connecticut state champion. And for the first time since 1980 — before I was born — it happened in a CIAC-sponsored sport, breaking a streak of twelve consecutive CIAC title-game losses in my lifetime in football, baseball, girls basketball, ice hockey, boys soccer, and boys volleyball. The streak-breaker? The baseball team, which beat Southington — Newington’s traditional archrival in everything — in a 10-inning thriller. How perfect! More here and here and here.
In a wet and wild CIAC Class LL state final, the No. 17 Newington baseball team outlasted seventh-ranked Southington 3-2 in 10 innings Saturday night.
Both Newington pitcher Cole Bryant (8-2) and Southington starter Sal Romano (10-2) pitched brilliant 10-inning games, but it was the Indians who exited Muzzy Field with the 3-2 win and the championship trophy.
Down 2-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, Southington rallied for a run to tie the score 2-2. It appeared as if the Blue Knights had the game won 3-2 in their eighth, but the run was negated on an appeal play at home plate.
Newington scored an unearned run in the top of the 10th to go up 3-2. Southington loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the frame, but Bryant got a strikeout to give Newington its first state title.
I had no idea the Indians had even reached the title game; unlike in some past years that blog readers will remember, I wasn’t paying attention. Newington was 12-8 in the regular season, and seeded #17 in Class LL, so this team didn’t seem like a candidate to break the school’s long streak of finishing as runners-up. (If you include second-place finishes by the golf team, NHS had had fourteen second-place finishes in CIAC sports since its last CIAC championship, the year before I was born.) But they knocked off #16 Windsor, #1 Glastonbury, #8 Danbury and #4 Amity en route to the title game.
Friend of the blog Dan Dinunzio has much more about the game, including a firsthand account of the eighth-inning craziness (remember, high-school games are 7 innings long, so the 8th is already “extra innings,” and a go-ahead run in the bottom of the 8th would win the game):
Middle infielder Armando Soler dropped a lazy fly ball to put Matt Spruill on 1st base. Then, following a pop out, Southington star Sal Romano laced a double down the left-field line. It looked as if the game was over.
I wasn’t watching home plate, because I figured, “wow, the curse lives on and Newington has come in second again!” But in a matter of seconds, it all changed when Spruill forgot to touch home plate. Are you serious? On the biggest stage of any high school athlete’s career, he forgot to do what seems so natural.
A celebration ensued for Southington on the pitcher’s mound while Newington coaches screamed for an appeal. Newington appealed, and it was clear the umpire had seen exactly what unfolded. A nightmare for any Southington fan, and a miracle for all of those in the stands cheering for Newington. Spruill was ruled out while Romano returned to second base with his head in his jersey, in a state of shock.
And then, after Newington took at 3-2 lead in the top of the 10th, the game’s final out, in the bottom of the 10th:
Southington loaded the bases with two outs and reached a full count. Cole Bryant had thrown 175 pitches on the night. At that pitch count, I can’t even imagine what his arm felt like.
Cole dialed up a two-seam fastball and struck out Tyler Burns looking. It was his 16th strikeout of the game. Bryant called it “the greatest feeling in the world,” and the Newington celebration began. A mob-pile began on the field full of joyous embraces, hugs, and jubilation between the coaches and players.
A thirty-year streak weighed heavy on the right arm of Cole Bryant. His 176th pitch of the night ended that drought and crowned the Newington Indians baseball team State Champions for the first time ever.
Photo by John Brunetti, father of JV coach and my Class of 1999 classmate Jeff Brunetti.
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