The 2014 season for the Notre Dame-West Haven baseball team was one of many emotions. There was a stretch of 10 straight wins in the middle of the season, and a pair of stretches that included two losses in a handful of games.
When all was said and done, the regular season was just an appetizer for an impressive postseason run.
The Green Knights finished the regular season 16-4 before losing to Amity in the opening round of the Southern Connecticut Conference tournament.
All of that was just a warm up for what happened on Saturday.
Behind the pitching of John Amendola and big third and fifth innings, Notre Dame won its fifth state title with a 9-2 victory over Masuk in the Class L final.
The second and third innings actually decided the game as Amendola allowed just one run after Masuk loaded the bases with no one out in the second.
The Green Knights then took over with three runs in the third inning to take a 4-2 lead. Evan Lumpinski had a big two-run single and Andrew Natale added a run-scoring single.
Scoring in the inning were Zach Ardito, Zack Balabon and Mike Corso, all of which played a big role in the title run. Ardito and Lumpinski, along with Dylan Reynolds all drove in a pair in the clincher.
The loss to the Spartans in the SCC tournament may have done wonders for this Green Knights team.
Able to rest some arms and get a jolt of energy before the state tournament, Notre Dame responded.
“We started the season pretty well,” Notre Dame coach Lou Kessler said as he led his team to its fourth title under his direction. “We had a letdown at the end of the season. The pitching and defense kept us in every game. We also got timely hits. The games we lost, we did not get the base hits we needed.
“Our pitching has been solid and our defense has been solid. We had just been inconsistent at the plate. We had a different lineup for 21 games. The last five games, we have had the same lineup. We mixed it around during the year. When we got to the state tournament, we had to make a decision. It has been successful and we have stayed with it.”
Along with the changes in the batting order, the Green Knights have gotten quality innings from others not named Amendola.
While Amendola clearly was the ace of the rotation, others, including Anthony Rovasio, Ardito and Reynolds have made big pitches in all four tournament games heading into the final.
“Anthony has given us innings,” Kessler said of Rovasio. “He gave us four in the second round (against Pomperaug), then Zach Ardito gave us two and John (Amendola) came in to close.
“We had the same situation in the semifinals. Anthony gave us four, then (Dylan) Reynolds gave us one and a half and John came in to close. John wants the ball every game.”
Amendola had another stellar season. In 74.1 innings of work heading into the finals, Amendola posted a 9-3 record with four saves in four opportunities.
Amendola allowed just 13 runs, only eight earned, for an incredible 0.75 ERA heading to the finals.
With a loss in the semifinals a year ago against Waterford, Amendola had to wait another 12 months to get his shot at a title. That wait was well worth it.
The Green Knights, as a whole, may not have spoken of the loss, but as a team, have used the semifinal defeat as motivation for this season’s title pursuit.
“We (coaches) did not talk about it all during the season,” Kessler said. “I could see it in the kids. That has been between them. They have goals written down on the board in the locker room. I have not talked about it.
“We are a little bit different of a team as far as pitching aside from John (Amendola). Zack Balabon at first base has worked out very well for us. They have all been in there. They have all gotten time. So, I am sure a little bit, they have used that. They seem to know what they want and they have been approaching it like that.”
Not to be lost in the shuffle was the play of the Notre Dame defense. While there were errors, the Green Knights made the plays behind the pitching.
It all starts up the middle and Notre Dame could not have asked for anything better.
“Our defense has been pretty solid up the middle,” Kessler said. “With Lou DeGennaro at second, Zach Ardito at shortstop and Drew Arciuolo in center, we have been strong. He (Arciuolo) is a Division I player going to Fairfield. We are solid up the middle and that is important. We felt it has helped us keep playing well.”
Pitching, hitting and defense are always the keys to any championship team. The Green Knights mixed them all in during the postseason run and Saturday capped a season to remember with another title.