WOODBRIDGE >> The Shelton-Amity game started on May 6 at the Old Tavern Complex in Orange and ended on Saturday at Amity High.
In between was a protest won by Shelton on a disputed balk call, then a decision made to take away Amity’s win and replay the game from the point of the dispute — a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Shelton won it on the field this time, 5-4, thanks to an RBI groundout from Justin Lynch in the top of the seventh inning. The Gaels (12-5) clinched a share of the Southern Connecticut Conference Housatonic Division title with Sheehan.
“I’m very pleased with the efforts of the upperclassmen, because we had only five wins last year,” Shelton coach Scott Gura said. “Whenever you can put a banner on the wall, whether it’s the Housy, the SCC or the state championship, it does mean something. Because every time you go into that gym, you know you did something special that year.”
In that May 6 contest, Amity put runners on first and second with no outs against Shelton ace Mike Cowell. Chris Winkel attempted to steal third, but was thrown out by Cowell. Amity coach Sal Coppola disputed the play, saying Cowell remained on the pitching rubber while throwing to third, which was an unoccupied base.
Once the balk call was made, Gura registered his official protest. Matt Ronai then hit a three-run home run on an 0-2 pitch to give Amity the 7-4 lead and eventual victory.
The next day, the Greater New Haven Baseball Umpires Association ruled the balk call was misapplied because, even though Cowell didn’t break from the rubber, he was making a play on a base runner. On Monday, the SCC ruled the game had to be replayed from the point of the protest.
So instead of a three-run home run, Ronai was once again facing an 0-2 count against the league’s best pitcher. He fouled off a couple pitches before striking out. Cowell then struck out Devin Belenski to end the threat.
“Mike and (Ryan) Testani are the two best pitchers to come through this program over the last 17 years,” Gura said. “He throws the ball harder than Ryan. He is explosive. To face a team of this caliber and pitch that dominating was his best stuff. It was a championship performance.”
Cowell retired all eight batters he faced, including five on strikeouts, and whiffed Winkel to end the game and give Shelton a share of the division crown. Cowell had 11 strikeouts for the game.
“It’s probably the best I felt on the mound in a long time. I felt my slider was sharp and I was hitting my spots,” said Cowell, who was coming off his first loss of the season against Sheehan on Monday. “I had a full week to talk about it. I knew what the first pitch (to Ronai) was going to be. I knew what the second pitch was going to be.”
The Gaels put two runners on against No. 8 Amity (11-6) in the sixth, but couldn’t produce the go-ahead run. But they did in the seventh.
Mike Ficano singled to lead off the inning and Cowell, whose two-run homer on May 6 tied the game at 4, helped himself again by singling through the right side, allowing Ficano to go to third. Then Lynch’s slow ground ball enabled Ficano to score the deciding run against Ronai, who had come on to pitch in the seventh.
This is the first time since 2003 Amity will not have at least a share of the Housy title. The Spartans had a similar record at this time last year, but went on to successfully defend its Class LL state crown.
“We hope we see them in the playoffs because we want to play them again. We want to see him and their team in the (SCC or Class LL) playoffs,” Coppola said. “We hit him hard the first time. We know we can hit him, but it’s hard. He could be the best guy in the state.”