MIDDLETOWN – It looked like a sure bet in the early-going that Berlin’s return to the CIAC Class L championship game would be anti-climactic.
The Redcoats, the runner-up to Waterford in 2019, batted around in a seven-run second inning highlighted by Jamie Palamese’s three-run, opposite-field home run to right.
But Lyman Hall, an unlikely semifinalist as the No. 22 seed in the tournament, didn’t get this far just to pack it in. The Trojans chipped away with two runs in the third, one in the fifth and another in the sixth. In fact, they had runners in scoring position in every inning but one.
Berlin got big plays from its infield defense in key spots in the fourth and sixth, and Lyman Hall ended up leaving 13 runners on – eight in scoring position – as the Redcoats held on for an 8-5 victory in the rain Tuesday night at Palmer Field.
No. 2 seed Berlin (21-3) now takes aim at its first state title since 2005 when it meets No. 1 Hand on Saturday at 7 p.m. back at Palmer Field.
“Anytime you get to a state final, it could be 1911, when you get to a state final it’s a special thing,” Berlin coach Leo Veleas said.
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Sal Dastoli went 3 for 3 and drove in a run for the Redcoats and Justin Piskorski, Nick Spinali and Connor Gileau drove in a run each. Aidan Weir had two hits and scored two runs for the Trojans and starting pitcher Justin Hackett had an RBI triple.
Lyman Hall coach Bill Rich credited Berlin’s offense for its big inning and his team for keeping the faith after falling behind by so many runs so early.
“That’s the kind of guys they are. They’re fighters and they work hard and that’s why we’re here,” Rich said. “Lyman Hall hasn’t been on the map in a number of years, but that climate’s about to change because these kids are setting the bar for the kids coming up. I’m really proud of the kids. I told them you can be upset with the loss but don’t be upset with the way you played. I think everybody left their heart on the field tonight.”
Lyman Hall gave Hackett, the team’s ace, a 1-0 lead in the first inning on an RBI single by Anthony Boyle.
After not scoring in its half, Berlin went on the attack in the second, loading the bases on a leadoff single by Dastoli, a walk to Nick Melville and a bunt by Tyler Rice that he beat out for a hit. Spinali and Gileau followed with RBI singles, Rice scored on a wild pitch and Palamese, the team’s leadoff hitter, crushed a fastball just inside the foul pole in right for a 6-1 lead.
Dastoli supplied the seventh run of the inning with an RBI single.
“We had a lot of momentum already going into my at-bat,” Palamese said. “Connor came up with a nice hit (from the ninth spot in the order) and I felt that anything could happen in that situation. Tonight was a great team effort.
While Berlin left-hander James Ellis, who labored over 4 1/3 innings for the win, struggled with his location, his infielders saved him in spots, one no bigger than the end of the fourth inning.
With Lyman Hall runners on second and third and two out, Piskorski ran down a ground ball that nearly wound up in center field and threw out Boyle at first by a step. The play preserved Berlin’s 7-4 lead.
Right-hander Matt Kozak, who relieved Ellis with one on in the fifth, gave up a first-pitch double to Ryan Brockett to deep left. After walking Thomas Pallotta, Ellis got a strikeout and a lazy fly to left to get out of the jam.
Ty Casey’s two-out single with two runners on in the sixth drove in Hackett to cut Berlin’s lead to 7-5. After an infield error loaded the bases, Kozak got Pallotta to ground into a fielder’s choice at third to get out of the inning.
Ellis allowed four runs on five hits, walked four and struck out two. Kozak allowed one hit over the final 2 2/3 for the save while walking four.
“Pitching and defense,” Veleas said, alluding to what his team needs most to bring home a title. “And Piskorski played a great game at short and had a huge base hit (in the sixth).
Piskorski’s two-out double to the right-field corner scored Spinali, who was hit by a pitch at the start of the inning, and drove Lyman Hall ace Justin Hackett from the game.
Hackett bounced back from the disastrous second inning, holding Berlin to just two hits before his pitch count maxed out in the sixth.
Veleas said if his team is destined to win the Class L title, it will take fundamentals and execution to win the game.
“Hopefully it will be a good game,” he said. “I hope our guy pitches well and that’s all I can ask for. There’s no regrets. If we play well, we’re not bad. If we don’t you tip your hat to the other team.”