MIDDLETOWN >> Notre Dame-West Haven spent this season in the shadows. The Southern Connecticut Conference spotlight was focused on Fairfield Prep, Law and Xavier.
Statewide, a loaded Class LL field and the Class M powers of the Eastern Connecticut Conference received the most attention.
Saturday was Notre Dame’s day to shine.
The fourth-seeded Green Knights had a big third inning to erase an early Masuk lead and eventually top the 14th-seeded Panthers 9-2 to win the Class L state championship Saturday at Palmer Field.
“I glance at (the preseason Top 10 poll) and we’re 34th in the state,” Green Knights coach Lou Kessler said. “Oh, well that’s pretty good for a semifinal team with more than half the team coming back. I said hey, it’s not where you start, it’s where you end up.”
The Green Knights, who were actually ranked 14th in the preseason poll, captured their fifth state title in school history.
“This is amazing,” winning pitcher John Amendola said. “It’s been our goal, we’ve worked so hard. We were confident, I’m so happy we got this done.”
Masuk fell short in its search for its first state crown, but Panthers Ralph Franco said he is still proud of his team. Franco did not coach the semifinal victory over Law due to a family emergency. After advancing to the final, the team was focused on winning it for their coach.
Franco said he thanked his seniors for their efforts and told the underclassmen to keep their heads up.
“What you really need to do to win a championship is stay composed, and hopefully we’ll have another opportunity,” Franco said.
Masuk had a chance to blow the game open, loading the bases with no outs in the second inning, but only got one run. John Orzechowski grounded out to score Malik Cummings from third. Then Kyle Horton and Anthony Amoroso flied out to end the threat with Masuk up 2-1.
“(Amendola) showed why he can pitch at the next level with that inning,” Franco said.
In the third inning, the Green Knights’ bats woke up. Notre Dame scratched off three runs courtesy of a two-run single from Evan Lumpinski to score Zach Ardito and Zack Balabon. Andrew Natale drove in Mike Corso with a single to make it 4-2 Notre Dame.
Dylan Reynolds, Ardito and Lumpinski had two RBIs apiece and Balabon, Natale and Ben LaCriox all drove in one.
“From Tuesday to Saturday we just really focused on hitting,” Balabon said. “Even when we weren’t playing baseball, we were just talking to each other. We were really focused.”
Amendola’s focus was to make sure Masuk wasn’t hitting.
After the Panthers scored in the second inning, they didn’t get another baserunner until Horton walked with one out in the fifth inning. Amoroso grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to end the minor threat.
Catcher Aiden Burton settled under a popup off the bat of Paul Marchese, and when the ball landed in his mitt, the spotlight was finally shining on Notre Dame.
“We knew we had this in us from the beginning,” Amendola said. “It’s great to get it done.”
NOTRE DAME-WEST HAVEN 9, MASUK 2
(at Palmer Field)
Masuk 110 000 0 — 2 4 3
Notre Dame 103 140 X — 9 10 2
Chris Lindquist, Cam Kovachik (3), Tyler Weiss and Matt Romaniello; John Amendola and Aiden Burton.
WP: John Amendola (). LP: Chris Lindquist ().
Team records: Masuk 16-10; Notre Dame-West Haven 21-5.
Comments: Notre Dame-West Haven wins fifth state title in school history. First since 2011.