MIDDLETOWN >> Baseball practices at Notre Dame-West Haven are regimented affairs. Every last second of each daily session is accounted for, albeit with one notable exception.
At some point John Amendola, the Green Knights ace, will slip through a back gate and disappear for the better part of an hour.
Coach Lou Kessler doesn’t exactly know what goes on during those 45 minutes; doesn’t need to know, really.
“It’s not a water break,” Kessler says. “He’s working.”
Amendola’s clandestine routine, which he later revealed to be endless laps at the University of New Haven football stadium and various other conditioning drills, is a major reason why he’s developed into one of the best high school pitchers in the state.
It’s also set him up to thrive in situations like Saturday. Making his fifth appearance (third start) in 12 days, the Northeastern-bound senior rose above a case of early nerves to conquer Masuk 9-2 for the CIAC Class L state championship at Palmer Field.
The title was Notre Dame’s fifth overall, and the fourth under Kessler. Amendola’s brilliance over this run may go down as the greatest postseason performance in school history.
A few former Green Knights are certainly in the conversation. Dom Rovasio, father of this year’s No. 2 starter Anthony Rovasio, won four games in leading the Green Knights to the 1985 championship. Josh McDonald, now the pitching coach at UConn, won three to lead the 2000 title run. John Zullo (1996) and Gary Flowers (2011) were also dominant as aces of their respective title squads.
One thing, Kessler says, sets Amendola apart.
“None of them pitched in five games,” Kessler said. “The key was (Anthony) Rovasio. He gave us the innings to keep him rested.”
Amendola recorded the last out in every playoff game this spring. The final tally: three wins (two by shutout) two saves and one earned run over 24 innings pitched. His game log is nearly flawless. There was a first-round shutout of North Haven; recording the final three outs against Pomperaug a day later.
In the quarterfinals, and matched Gatorade State Player of the Year Ron Rossomando of Bunnell, Amendola came within one out of a no-hitter. Four days later he earned a four-out save against East Lyme in the semifinals.
As busy as he’s been in the playoffs, Amendola stuck to his off-day roadwork, running his full routine. Legs and stamina are every bit as important as velocity.
“I know I have a lot of innings on my arm,” Amendola said. “I’m up over 80 innings this spring. But at this point, you do whatever it takes.”
On Saturday, jitters were his biggest enemy. Masuk scratched out a first-inning unearned run after Kyle Horton reached on an error and scored on a wild pitch. In the second inning, the Panthers loaded the bases with no outs thanks to a double-play ball that took a hellacious hop for an infield single. It led to another run, which snapped an Amendola streak of 18 innings without an earned run allowed in the postseason.
After two innings, Notre Dame trailed 2-1. Senior catcher Aiden Burton, who has a knack of saying the right things at the right time, helped refocus the Green Knights ace.
“He was a little down and flustered,” Burton said. “I sat down next to him in the dugout and said ‘This is your moment.’ He started throwing a lot harder and got his game going.”
Over the final six innings, Amendola was in vintage form. He allowed no hits. One Masuk batter reached base via fifth-inning walk, but was promptly erased on a 6-4-3 double play. Amendola barely seemed to break a sweat in retiring the final six batters, inducing a foul pop-up that Burton snared to secure the championship.
When the celebration was over and all the photos were snapped, Amendola displayed another impressive quality as he put everything neatly into perspective. Humility.
“This isn’t just for us,” Amendola said. “It’s for all the kids at our school along with our parents and our fans. This win is absolutely one of the best wins and best feelings of my life.”
His Notre Dame career is now complete. In his final season, Amendola finished 10-3 with four saves and a 0.77 ERA. This postseason performance — having a direct hand in all five wins and a 0.29 ERA – is the stuff of legend that puts him in the exclusive company of those championship aces who came before him: Rovasio, Zullo, McDonald and Flowers.
And on a day when jitters proved more of a problem then heavy workload or fatigued legs, he found a way to limit damage before his teammates took over nine runs on 10 hits in an otherwise easy victory.
“He’s been unbelievable these playoffs,” Burton said. “As much as he’s pitched, I knew he’d get the job done. But I didn’t know quite how he’d do it. But I knew he would. I mean…he’s John Amendola.”
Chip Malafronte, the Register sports columnist, can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Chip on Twitter @ChipMalafronte.