MIDDLETOWN — After closing the quarterfinals with two innings in relief and tossing a complete game in the semifinals, some may have questioned whether Staples’ Chad Knight would take the ball in the CIAC Class LL championship game against Southington on three days’ rest.
“There was no way (coach Jack McFarland) was not giving me the ball,” Knight said. “That was the bottom line. I was very grateful to get the ball.”
The rest of the Staples team was grateful, too.
Knight pitched a complete game, striking out 10 and giving up just three hits as No. 5 Staples defeated No. 3 Southington 3-0 in the Class LL championship game.
It is the third state title for Staples and second in the last three seasons.
“I think this one is a little sweeter,” Knight said. “To win a state championship alone is such an unbelievable feeling but to win the FCIAC and the state in the same year, with this incredible group of guys in our senior year, I couldn’t ask for anything more.
“As crazy as it seems, if I could have lost and played another game with this team I would have taken that instead. I’m really going to miss this group of guys. I’m really overcome with emotion, right now and I don’t remember the last time I was.”
Southington’s best chances came in the first and seventh.
The Blue Knights put two runners on in the bottom of the first but Knight retired the next three batters.
In the bottom of the seventh, it seemed Southington would have one more rally left, again getting the first two batters of the inning on base.
Once again, Knight escaped.
This time, the final out was grounded to Chris Veneruso at second base who threw to Harry Azadian for the final out, setting off a celebration on the mound.
“I thought we were going to win,” Southington coach Charles Lembo said. “I thought we would load the bases and maybe get a bomb or maybe hit a gapper. I really had confidence in this team until the last out.”
The eventual winning run was driven in by Kevin Rabacs on a sacrifice fly, scoring pinch runner Ben Lewis in the fourth inning.
Lewis was on running for Harry Azadian, who singled leading off the inning, moving to second on a sacrifice bunt by Andrew Moy and going to third on an error by the first baseman on that bunt.
Staples added a run in the fifth when Zach Zobel scored on an infield error.
The Wreckers got one more in the sixth with Rabacs coming in on a passed ball.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Chad Knight, Staples. Knight was on the mound for the final 16 innings the Wreckers played in the tournament. He closed the quarterfinals with two innings of relief, pitched a complete game with 10 strikeouts in the semifinals and struck out 10 more in the finals. In one stretch, Knight retired 12 in a row from the third through sixth innings.
“We had to manufacture some runs, we had to take some chances on some wild pitches and Chad was Chad on the mound. You have to get to Chad early, like all great pitchers. They had a shot early and Chad worked out of it. He got a little tired pitching on three days’ rest but when I talked to him Thursday he said ‘Coach, I’m taking that ball.’ We called on him one more time and he throws a complete game. That’s what makes him the top player in Connecticut.” — Staples coach Jack McFarland.