By MICHAEL LETENDRE
NEW BRITAIN – It just took one inning for the fourth-rated St. Paul Catholic High School baseball squad to put its stamp on the game – and over a five-run third inning of play, the squad sent in its resume for a Class S championship date.
And in the end, a huge two-out, two RBI single by Zach Parent in the third inning helped the Falcons turn the tide of the game as the Bristol outfit zipped up a 5-2 win over No. 24 Old Lyme from Beehive Field in New Britain on Tuesday, June 7 in a semifinal match-up.
The win propelled the fourth-ranked squad to the championship tilt against No. 3 Morgan – a squad St. Paul Catholic fell to last season in a quarterfinal round (5-3) during the postseason one short year ago.
Old Lyme proved pesky, giving the Falcons fits at the plate throughout the challenge but so did the Southern New Hampshire University bound Connor Crean.
In the heat, Crean was wild at times but just when it looked like the senior chucker was about to go over the edge, he’d come back with a huge strikeout or induced a ground-ball out – all over a stint where he did not allow any hits, picking up his biggest win of the year.
In fact, Old Lyme’s first hit came in the top of the seventh off reliever Jackson Hines who pitched some huge relief innings for St. Paul Catholic.
For the game, Lyme generated just two hits but managed its two runs via a sac fly and an RBI groundout.
Crean walked six batters over his first four innings of work but also punched out seven as he kept Old Lyme in check throughout his stint on the mound.
Credit also belonged to “Big” Chadd Richardson behind the plate as he chased down several balls in the dirt and did not allow many Old Lyme base-runners to advance throughout the contest.
Losing pitcher Callum Sawden lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing three hits, five earned runs while walking four and striking out one.
But it was a challenge throughout as Lyme threatened to score to open the showdown.
A walk and an error put two runners on with no outs and off a walk to Alex Bellas, Lyme had the bases loaded with two outs in the top of the first.
However, Crean caught Griffin Powers looking at strike three to get out of the jam without any damage.
St. Paul couldn’t capitalize on Drew Owsianko’s two-out single in the bottom of the first but Crean picked off a runner in the second to end that half-frame.
Crean was hit by a pitch with two outs gone in the second but was stranded and when the St. Paul Catholic chucker struck out the final two batters he faced in the third, it was still a 0-0 game.
But business was about to pick up for the locals.
During a fateful third inning, in which St. Paul Catholic batted around, it started with a base-on-balls by Nick Morrell and when Hines dropped in a single, two ducks were on the pond.
Ben Mazzone then executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the duo up as both runners were nestled in scoring position.
Owsianko then popped out and with one additional putout, Old Lyme would have come out of the inning with another zero on the scoreboard.
But three big plays during the game quickly unfolded to benefit the Falcons.
The first play was a baffling intentional walk to Richardson, who flew out during his first at-bat but loading up the bases.
Lyme wanted to pitch to Dombroski – a player who certainly has power and could knock the ball all over the field.
But Dombrowski never got the chance as he drew a bases-loaded walk to plate Morrell and make it a 1-0 game.
And with the bases still juiced, Parent quickly drilled a base hit to center as Hines and Richardson scored as Lyme was quickly trailing 3-0.
Crean walked to load the bases once again and when sophomore Ryan Greene drew ball four, another runner tagged the plate, ending the day for Sawden on the mound, and propelling the Falcons to a 4-0 edge.
Finally, a wild pitch by reliever Alex Kane scored Parent and St. Paul Catholic High School was in charge by a 5-0 push midway through the third frame.
But credit belonged to the Wildcats as the team struck right back for two runs, taking advantage of two consecutive base-on-balls by Crean to Bellas and Griffin Powers.
A wild pitch advanced the runners and the lead man scored when Cameron Dean-Frazier’s sacrifice fly to center cut the deficit to 5-1.
The next batter, Chase Hackett, flipped out a grounder – scoring Powers – as Old Lyme dented the St. Paul Catholic lead to 5-2, all without the benefit of a hit.
Hines eventually came in to pitch for Crean and a wacky double play in the fifth – including a critical player’s interference call – helped to negate a run that would have made it a 5-3 game with the Wildcats threatening to tie the contest up.
Hines then plunked a batter but when he got the final strikeout of the inning, St. Paul came out of the jam with its precious 5-2 lead intact.
While the Falcons were never able to pad its lead, limited to one additional hit over the final three innings of action, the St. Paul defense made all the plays late – even as Old Lyme put the tying run at the plate over the final two stanza’s of the game.
Hines, in fact, got out of tricky situations in all the innings he pitched and finally in the seventh, Old Lyme generated two hits to put the tying run at the plate.
But in the end, those runs never came as the Falcons staved off the Wildcats and moved St. Paul Catholic to the championship round for the first time since 1976.
Comments? Email mletendre@BristolObserver.com