HIGGANUM >> Cromwell catcher Sean Melaven was just a freshman when he blasted a triple against East Hampton’s Marvin Gorgas in the Shoreline Conference championship game.
Melaven’s run scoring hit against Gorgas, who was drafted by the Seattle Mariners two weeks later, and helped Cromwell capture the league title over the Bellringers in 2014.
Three years later on Saturday, Cromwell trailed Old Lyme, 1-0, and was in dire need of another momentum booster as the 2017 SLC tournament final entered the sixth inning.
“It looked pretty bad for us,” said Melaven, one of only three seniors on the Cromwell roster.
But Melaven started a late uprising by drawing a lead-off walk against Wildcats starter Hunter Thorton. Cromwell then got run scoring singles from juniors Zach Lombardo and Noah Budzik, and a terrific three-inning relief stint from junior Jared Valentin to capture its second straight SLC crown with a 4-2 victory at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
It was also Cromwell’s third league championship in four years.
“Our kids kept on believing and kept on fighting and understanding the fact that you’re never out of it,” Cromwell coach Lewis Pappariella said. “You have to play all seven innings and our kids did that.”
Old Lyme, which reached the final with wins over Old Saybrook and Haddam-Killingworth, grabbed a 1-0 lead on senior Julian Muller’s homer over the centerfield fence in the third.
The Wildcats (16-7) then had a chance to extend their lead but left a pair of runners on in the fourth and fifth innings.
“Both teams had chances and in the end Cromwell just made a few more plays offensively,” Old Lyme coach Randy St. Germain said. “Thorton pitched a heckuva game. He got out of a lot of jams. Eventually, something is going to happen and they took advantage of it.”
Thorton allowed just two hits through five innings. But after walking Melaven to start the sixth, the junior righthander uncorked two wild pitches. Lombardo then tied it with a single to center. Don McCaleb followed with a bunt that was mishandled and Budzik’s single to right gave Cromwell a 2-1 lead.
After senior Alex Hinkle reached on a fielder’s choice, Austin Roy’s perfect squeeze bunt scored Budzik for a 3-1 advantage.
“We try to be multifaceted so we can beat you a number of different ways and one of the ways we do that is being able to bunt,” Pappariella said.
Cromwell (16-7), which topped Morgan in the semifinals, added an insurance run in the seventh when senior Luke Matchett (2-for-3) reached on a bunt single and eventually scored on a balk.
“We got that one run to tie the game and it was all over from there,” Melaven said. “It’s unheard of to go back-to-back and to do it in my senior year it’s a great feeling.”
Old Lyme tried to rally in the seventh behind a lead-off double from sophomore Eli St. Germain (2-for-3) and a pinch-hit single from junior Robby Fusari. But Valentin, who relieved Roy in the fifth to earn the pitching win, got junior Jace Funaro on a game-ending grounder to freshman second baseman Tyler Baldwin.
“Our kids didn’t give up,” St. Germain said. “They’ve got a huge heart and you saw it in the end. We had the tying run at the plate. You’ve got to run through the H-K, Cromwell gauntlet just to win it and and that’s not easy. We couldn’t ask for anything more ”
The No. 17 Panthers travel to Suffield on Tuesday in the opening round of the Class M state tournament.
“Every win is nice but this especially sweet,” Pappariella said. “I think we’re built for tournament style play and hopefully we can keep that rolling on Tuesday.”