CLINTON >> The Morgan baseball team moved one game away from their third consecutive trip to the Class S state championship game with a 3-0 victory over Shepaug Valley on Saturday at the Indian River Complex.
Powered by sensational pitching from seniors Cooper Thompson and John Urban, a terrific defense spearheaded by senior shortstop Madden Ward, and some timely hitting, the sixth-seeded Huskies, who lost in the finals in each of the last two seasons, are making another epic bid to win the school’s first baseball title.
“We’re not there yet,” Morgan coach John Litevich said. “We’re playing Lyman Memorial and that’s a good baseball team.”
Morgan (19-6) will meet the No. 2 Bulldogs (22-3) in the semifinals on Tuesday at a site to be determined.
A few weeks ago Litevich announced that this would be his final season at the Clinton school. His players, however, certainly don’t need the extra motivation.
“These guys think they’re supposed to go (to the finals) every year now,” Litevich said. “We have eight returning players that have been to either both state championship games or one. They’ve been there before and they got the experience for it.”
Thompson was brilliant against Shepaug Valley. The righthander allowed just one hit and struck out eight while earning his sixth shutout of the season.
“Cooper has been phenomenal,” Litevich said. “He probably could have had seven shutouts but I pulled him (in the 10-0 first round win over Stafford) to get him to pitch the game today. He has to be one of the top three pitchers in the state.”
The only hit was a one out double in the bottom of the third from ninth batter and designated hitter Jack Schneider.
“(Thompson) did a great job,” Shepaug Valley coach Scott Werkhoven said. “He didn’t give anything away. He worked ahead all day. There’s a reason he’s their ace. And they made some good plays when they had to.”
Thompson, who will pitch for Division I Sacred Heart next season, retired 10 batters in a row after Schneider’s double.
“My offspeed stuff was on and that’s what really helped me get through this game,” Thompson said. “It was just keeping guys off balance and changing speeds. And when we scored the three runs that just put my confidence up.”
The Huskies took a 3-0 lead in the third against Spartans senior lefthander Austin Dutcher. Drew Walton led off with a single to left and moved to second base on Harry White’s sacrifice bunt. After Ward grounded out, sophomore A.J. Fritz drilled an RBI double to left centerfield for a 1-0 lead.
Thompson then reached on an infield error to put runners on first and third with two out for junior first baseman Russ Green, who lofted a towering fly ball to the right field corner.
Spartans sophomore Jack Pesce raced over towards the line and appeared to get under the ball to make the catch but the ball popped off his glove and landed in fair territory, allowing two runs to score. Dutcher allowed just four hits while striking out six.
The No. 19 Spartans (12-11) reached the quarterfinals with wins over Portland and Coventry.
“The kids had an up and down year,” said Werkhoven, who played for his father, Dave, on Shepaug’s 1987 state championship team. “But they got it together at the end. We got the guys back that we thought we were going to have all year.
“Austin threw the ball really well down the stretch and other guys stepped up. We might have scuffled along in the regular season but I think they showed what kind of team they were this week.”
Werkhoven guided Westbrook to a Class S state championship in 2002 before returning to coach his alma mater in 2005. He replaced his father, who had won three Class S titles and nine Berkshire League championships at the Washington school.
“These guys were a lot of fun to work with this year,” Werkhoven added.
Litevich won a Class L state title in 2006 as an assistant coach at Branford High School before taking over The Morgan School program. He has made a decision to leave the Huskies after 11 seasons.
“It’s time to move on,” Litevich said. “Today’s day and age is a little different than it used to be. I’m more of an an old school coach. I see things changing and I don’t want to be stuck in the middle of that stuff. Wherever the Lord takes me I’m ready to go.”
Litevich then looked over at the Huskies players who were gathering their equipment in the dugout after Saturday’s big quarterfinal win over Shepaug Valley.
“I want to win this championship for them,” Litevich said. “It’s for them.”