By MICHAEL LETENDRE
MIDDLETOWN – Southern New Hampshire University bound pitcher Connor Crean helped his scholastic baseball squad from St. Paul Catholic High School to one more victory before heading off to Manchester, N.H. in the fall.
And with his teammates getting the job done at the plate, the crafty Crean dug down to pull out a complete game, three hit gem as the fourth ranked Falcons won the Class S championship, defeating No. 3 Morgan 4-2 from Palmer Field in Middletown on Sunday, June 12.
It was an amazing ending for St. Paul Catholic (20-6) as the squads were all tied up at 2-2 going into the top of the seventh in the championship tilt.
From there, the Falcons generated two seventh inning runs to salt the thing away, going ahead by two runs.
“I kept telling them, we scored two [runs] in the first and I thought two more would probably do it,” said St. Paul Catholic coach Vic Rinaldi. “We knew we had the top of the order coming up in the seventh and that was going to be our time to get it done with the top coming up.”
And it was a seventh inning the program will never forget.
The fateful seventh started with Jackson Hines (1-for-3, run HBP) led off with a flare to left for a base hit while Ben Mazzone (1-for-4, run), attempting to sacrifice the runner over, turned the attempt into an infield hit and two were on with no outs.
Drew Owsianko (1-for-4, run) advanced the duo over off a bunt turned grounder and – for the second straight game – “Big” Chadd Richardson (1-for-3, double) drew a late game intentional walk, loading the bases once again, and Mike Dombrowksi (1-for-2, run, RBI) was ready to put the ball in play.
With runners on second and third, Dombrowski slapped a shot to left field for an out but Hines was off on the catch.
The throw in from the outfield was miles away from the plate and Hines stepped on the plate to make it a 3-2 contest but in trying to get Mazzone going into third, the ball was chucked back into left field for an error.
Mazzone scored easily off the miscue and instantly, the Falcons were three outs away from the Class S title, in front 4-2.
“Jackson led off there with a good at-bat,” said Rinaldi of the seventh inning. “[He] had a two strike hit. And then Mazzone, another senior, put the bunt down. It was a sacrifice but it just worked out. He put it in the right spot. It worked out to be a hit. Owsianko is a three-hitter [and] I’m going to let him hit away. I don’t think I’ve ever given a three hitter a bunt sign but it worked out, a swinging bunt, and we’ll take it.”
After Richardson was walked, Dombrowski put the ball in play and rest was history.
And Crean wouldn’t allow any additional runners on base as he struck out side, propelling St. Paul Catholic to its first title since 1972 with the two run win.
“We felt comfortable with Crean on the mound (in that situation),” said Rinaldi. “They only scored two [runs through] six [innings] and we didn’t think they’d be able to get two in the seventh. So we felt comfortable there.”
Crean, wild at times, proficient during others, buckled down at every instance Morgan had to steal away the game.
Over his seven innings, Crean wrapped up 13 strikeouts, while allowing just three hits and posting seven walks while the Falcons used eight hits to help manufacture those four runs.
“I just knew my team had my back no matter what,” said Crean. “We were hitting the ball There weren’t any strikeouts that really killed us but we hit the ball. That was all we needed to do.”
His counterpart, the Huskies’ Cooper Thompson, also deserved credit as he allowed those four runs on eight hits while striking out four and walking three over his complete game.
For Morgan (20-5), Dylan Ketch (1-for-3, run stolen base), A.J. Fritz (1-for-4, RBI), and Will Fritz (1-for-3, walk) were the only batters to generate hits and just the tally by Ketch – to open the contest – was the only one that made it to the outfield.
Liam Neri (two walks), Thompson (walk, HBP), and Nick Caprio (two walks) all drew base-on-balls but on the afternoon, 11 runners were stranded on the bases by Morgan.
And even off those walks and the four errors by the Falcons, the team bounced back from each one to minimize the damage.
“We know we have to have each other’s back no matter what,” said Crean. “Even if they make an error, [I] tell them [to] pick their heads up, forget it and get the next out. That’s what we did.”
And to start the contest, St. Paul put on an impressive two-out rally as the squad jumped all over Thompson to score the two first inning runs.
With two gone, Owsianko snuck out an infield hit to third and then Richardson unleashed a long double the centerfielder could not find in the sun.
The two-base hit plated Owsianko and the Falcons were quickly ahead 1-0.
Dombrowski drew a walk to put two runners on and the duo advanced a base via steals to get into scoring position.
Parent then drilled a grounder that slapped off Thompson’s glove on the mound and slipped just out of reach of the second basemen to make a play.
The hit scored Richardson as the Falcons edged ahead by two runs.
Crean quickly walked to load the bases but Ryan Green flew to left, ending the frame and allowing St. Paul a quick 2-0 push.
However, Morgan made a quick response.
Morgan leadoff hitter Dylan Ketch dropped a one-hopper into centerfield which was misplayed and the senior hustled all the way to third base on the error.
He scored when A.J. Fritz unleashed a deep grounder to short and suddenly, it was a 2-1 game.
Crean walked the next two batters, all with two outs on the board, and hit Thompson with a pitch to load the bases up for Russ Green.
But Green grounded out to second as the Falcons took a one run lead into the second inning of action.
St. Paul Catholic couldn’t get anything going in the second but the Huskies tried as Nick Caprio walked to open the frame but Drew Walton – in an attempt to sacrifice the runner over the second – popped up to Richardson behind the plate.
Richardson made the catch as Caprio was already halfway to second base.
The catcher cooly threw it to first, getting Caprio, for a double play and the Falcons took their 2-1 edge into the third stanza.
Dombrowski, with two outs on the board, dropped in a single to right to put one on and Parent flipped a hit, to the same place into the outfield which was badly misplayed.
But credit belonged to the defense as the squad quickly got the ball back into the infield and when Dombrowski was halfway home, the ball was chucked to the catcher and the runner was tagged out at the plate – getting the third out and keeping it a 2-1 affair.
Crean got into a little trouble in the bottom of the third, walking Madden Ward, while Will Fritz just beat out an infield hit to short to put two on.
Another walk to Liam Neri loaded things up with one out as Thompson looked to give himself the lead in the contest.
A wild pitch plated Ward to notch things up at 2-2 and Thompson walked to reload the bases, threatening to open the contest up.
Crean then posted huge strikeouts on Russ Green and Caprio but with that single run, it was a brand new ball-game – tied at 2-2 – going into the fourth inning.
After two quick K’s by Thompson to open the top of the fourth, Morrell raced out another hit that grazed the pitcher’s glove again and Hines was hit by a pitch as St. Paul had something brewing.
But Mazzone flew out to short right to end the threat of the tied contest.
Then with one out, Ketch reached in the fourth via error at shortstop and later stole second to get the go-ahead run into scoring position.
A.J. Fritz was caught looking at strike three but Ward drew a base-on-balls to put two on with two outs.
And in a roundabout way, Crean managed to strike out the side as the game remained a 2-2 stalemate going into the fifth frame of play.
Thompson made extremely quick work of the St. Paul Catholic order in the fifth but the Huskies couldn’t get that go-ahead run on the scoreboard either.
Liam Neri reached on an error but two strikeouts later, Crean appeared to be out of the inning.
He walked Caprio for the second time in the contest but when Walton grounded out to Morrell at second, the inning was over and that 2-2 tally lasted into the sixth inning of play.
For the Falcons, Greene blasted a two-out hit to right as the go-ahead runner was on but Chad Neri scooped up a ball from a Morrell offering that almost snuck out of the infield and with that putout, 2-2 was still the score of the showdown.
In the bottom of the stanza. A.J. Fritz placed a chopper over Crean’s head that put the elusive go-ahead run again again but Ward struck out and Mazzone made a slick save at short to get Will Fritz out at first to push the 2-2 game into the fateful seventh inning as St. Paul Catholic scored twice and Crean closed out the game with three straight K’s.
“It means everything,” said Crean of the state championship. “Especially because our assistant coach [Jarrett Stawarz], they lost in the semifinals in 1999. That was our main reason for getting him that win, a state title.”