HADDAM >> Before the high school baseball season began, Haddam-Killingworth coach Mark Brookes said he wasn’t sure what he had with this year’s team.
Turns out what he has is an elite, Class M Final Four club, one that’s one win away from playing for a state championship.
Brookes’ No. 4 ranked Cougars saw to that with a dramatic, come-from-behind, walk-off quarterfinal 7-6 win over No. 12 Plainfield in front of a delirious crowd of more than 250 at Haddam-Killingworth High School Saturday afternoon.
The heroes of this day were Ben Alonzo, who, with one out in the seventh, singled home the tying run, and Tyler Popp, who followed by singling home the winning run.
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve had a walk-off hit,” Popp said. “I took the first fastball for a strike like coach told me, the next pitch was an off-speed pitch, but the third pitch was a fastball right there.”
Popp lined the pitch to left field and Owen Marica easily beat the throw home, touching off a wild celebration.
Haddam-Killingworth advances to Tuesday’s semifinals at Sage Park in Berlin where it will face No. 8-seeded Wolcott at 3 p.m. Wolcott stunned top-seeded Waterford, 5-2, in the other quarterfinal.
“When Ben got the hit before me, all the pressure was off,” Popp said.
Alonzo tied the game when he smacked a 3-2 pitch to right field scoring Ty Schuler, who drew a one-out walk, from third. The previous pitch, called a ball, was a borderline pitch and set off howls of protest from the Plainfield bench.
“I just trusted myself,” Alonzo said. “I knew if I got my pitch, and stayed under control, I would be successful. And I knew the guys after me could do the job.”
H-K (18-5) was in position to grab the walk-off win because Plainfield’s defense kept the Cougars in the game. Going to the seventh, H-K trailed just 6-5, But four of its five runs were unearned thanks to four Plainfield (15-8) errors. H-K had just two hits off of two Panthers’ pitchers going to the last inning.
“Our defense hurt us today,” Plainfield coach Jason Chaviaras said. “I thought our pitchers pitched very well and I thought we had that kid struck out, but it was not to be. I am very proud of our kids as no one expected us to get here. But it’s tough to lose this way. This one hurts.”
Plainfield took a 1-0 lead in the second on Kegan Marcoux’s two-out single that scored Izaiah Thompson. But the Plainfield defense gave up two runs in the third when shortstop Dylan Horn booted Marica’s ground ball allowing two runs to score.
H-K built its lead to 3-1 on a double by Popp (2-for-3) and a base hit by Jon Grasso in the fourth, but everything came apart for H-K starter Luke Bauer in the fifth.
Bauer took a three-hitter into the inning, but suddenly was hit hard. He gave up four hits to the first five batters, including doubles by Jeff Nicolas (2- for-4) and Colby Greenhalgh (2-for-4), and a two-run home run to right by David Carpenter. Just like that, a 3-1 lead turned into a 5-3 deficit.
Plainfield built the lead to 6-3 in the sixth as Nicolas singled home Chris Peasley off of reliever Aaron Swarek, who got the final two outs of the fifth.
With just six H-K outs left and a three-run lead, Plainfield couldn’t seal the deal as its defense sabotaged Horn, who relieved starter Nicolas in the fourth.
Popp led the sixth with a walk. Kyle Crandall followed with a ground ball that turned into two errors, allowing Popp to go to third. He scored on Trevor Mann’s pop fly down the right field line. Crandall scored when the throw home to get Popp sailed over everything.
The line for the inning was two runs, no hits, three errors. Merry Christmas.
“As one of the kids said, it doesn’t matter how we get runs,” Brookes said. “Certainly their defense helped us. We had seen very little of them. But the word was if we could put the ball in play and hit a few line drives, we could be successful. Their outfield plays very deep so if we could hit some singles, we would score.
“Then in the seventh inning, all the pressure was on them. But I can’t say enough good things about Ben and Tyler. They have delivered all season long.”
The losing pitcher was closer Carpenter, who got the first out on a strikeout, but never got a second. Gavin Figurelli, H-K’s third pitcher of the game, was the winner.
“I would say that since I wasn’t sure what we had had before the season began, this is a big surprise,” Brookes said. “But this is a team in which everybody contributes. We used three pitchers today and that’s typical of us.”
HADDAM-KILLINGWORTH 7, PLAINFIELD 6
Plainfield 010 041 0 — 6 9 2
Haddam-Killingworth 002 102 2 — 7 6 0
Jeff Nicolosi, Dylan Horn (4), David Carpenter (7) and Colby Greenhalgh; Luke Bauer, Aaron Skwarek (5), Gavin Figurelli (6) and Tyler Popp.
WP: Gavin Figurelli (1-2). LP: David Carpenter.
Team records: Plainfield 15-8; Haddam-Killingworth 19-5.