BRISTOL >> As the dominant baseball program in the state for the past few years, Amity has had plenty of chances to show off its usually barely hittable pitching and potent offense to opponents both near and far.
However, the Spartans might not be playing for their fourth straight CIAC Class LL title Saturday if it weren’t for something that may not be atop the list of many people’s most important baseball attributes.
Top-seeded Amity stole six bases, and began its winning two-out rally with a legged-out infield single by leadoff hitter Andrew Hague, as the Spartans held off No. 4 New Milford, 3-1, in the Class LL semifinals at Muzzy Field.
The win extended Amity’s amazing CIAC tournament win streak to 19, its last loss coming in 2013 in the Class LL quarterfinals to Southington. The Spartans (23-1) have also won 13 consecutive games this season after their only loss to division rival Cheshire on May 4.
“It’s not just speed, it’s hustle and the character of our team,” Hague said. “Our team’s been doing that all year and we just battled through this game. We’re going to Palmer (Field) again and I’m pumped. I’m so proud of this team.”
Tuesday, New Milford (18-6) was a game challenger and took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when Amity starter Max Scheps had control problems with two outs and walked two batters. He walked home No. 9 batter Austin Swanson with the bases loaded, which was only the second run Amity had allowed in the Class LL Tournament.
Green Wave pitcher Matt Ryan had not allowed a hit toi that point. But with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the third, Amity’s Andrew Hague hit a ball in the shortstop hole and just beat the throw for an infield single.
— Ray Curren (@currenscc) June 8, 2016
After Chris Winkel walked, Pat Winkel followed with a ball up the middle. New Milford second baseman Cooper Knight was able to keep in the infield with a diving stop, but Hague never stopped running from second and slid in safely at the plate under the tag to tie the game.
The Winkel brothers then proceeded to pull off a double steal, which turned out to be key when Brian Ronai hit a ground ball to third. Pat Winkel was tagged out, but he delayed long enough for brother Chris to score what turned out to be the winning run.
“We have a fast team,” Amity coach Sal Coppola said. “Any time we can use it to our advantage, we’re going to do it. It played a large factor against Southington in the quarterfinals, too. I didn’t think we hit the ball bad, but we hit it at them all game. But they’re a very good team. They kept coming at us.”
Pinch hitter Rohan Patel drove home Colin Beaulieu — another speedster — from second with a clutch, two-out single in the bottom of the sixth for the game’s final run.
Scheps did not walk another batter after the second inning, and allowed just four hits in six innings plus. He retired 12 of 13 batters at one point.
After Ryan led off the seventh with an infield single, Coppola chose to go to his ace Oliphant (the likely championship game starter). The senior came in and struck out the side to end the game.
Ryan, meanwhile, pitched out of a bases loaded, one-out jam in the fourth and allowed seven hits, four of which never left the infield (including a Beaulieu bunt single). But he took the loss.
“One of our strengths all season long is we hit the ball, and we ran into two great pitchers today,” New Milford coach Ryan Johnson said. “The little things are what wins and loses games. Hats off to them, they’re a great program and if I had to lose to anyone else, I’m glad it’s them. They’re amazing.”
Amity, which also won state titles in 2006 and 2007, has won its last five Class LL championship games. The Spartans will take on 10th-seeded Fairfield Warde, an 8-0 winner over Simsbury, in the championship game at Palmer Field, Saturday at noon
“We have a decent amount of new guys that have never been there, so we just stay the course and get ready for the final,” Coppola said. “It never gets old.”
AMITY 3, NEW MILFORD 1
New Milford 010 000 0 — 1 4 0
Amity 002 001 x — 3 7 0
WP: Max Scheps (A); LP: Matt Ryan (NM); S: Eli Oliphant
NM—Matt Ryan and Derek Profita; A—Max Scheps, Eli Oliphant (7) and Patrick Winkel.
Srikeouts: Ryan 3; Scheps 5, Oliphant 3.
Walks: Ryan 4; Scheps 1.
RBI: NM—Austin Swanson; A—Pat Winkel, Brian Ronai, Rohan Patel.