NORTH HAVEN — For nearly 24 hours, North Haven’s and Guilford’s baseball coaches tossed and turned, barely getting a wink of sleep as they pondered what to do when their teams returned to North Haven High School’s Bailey Field for the thrilling conclusion of Saturday’s CIAC Class L quarterfinal game.
A sudden cloudburst postponed Saturday’s matchup at DeMayo Field, leaving the coaches, players and fans with a cliffhanger: North Haven had the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game.
“I didn’t sleep all night,” North Haven coach Bob DeMayo said.
“Sleepless,” Guilford coach Brian Hayden said.
As for Guilford senior reliever Matt McGrath, the man charged with facing this scenario when play resumed Sunday… Well, he slept like a baby.
“I got about 11 hours of sleep last night, actually,” McGrath said sheepishly. “I was plenty nervous, believe me. But, coming out here today, I knew we were going to win.”
His rest and confidence paid off. Not only did McGrath get Guilford out of the jam but, after his team scored in the top of the 10th, he shut North Haven down secure an improbable 5-4 victory.
McGrath, who was warming up to pitch when the rain came down Saturday, wound up throwing 19 pitches, 16 for strikes, to earn the victory in relief.
“That’s Matt,” Hayden said. “I bring Matt in in the worst possible situations. He’s just always calm. He’s always collected. He wouldn’t know if the bases were loaded or if he was striking everybody out. Matt’s demeanor is the perfect guy for that situation.”
Guilford, which was 7-7 and unsure of itself at midseason, is suddenly two wins away from a state championship. The 10th-seeded Indians now face No. 11 Wethersfield in the Class L semifinals Tuesday, 3:30 p.m. at Hartford’s Dunkin Donuts Park.
“Honestly, deep down, I just thought we were going to find a way,” Hayden said. “I believe in these guys. They believe in one another, they play hard and they’re a special group. They’ve been playing together forever and I’m just so proud of them.”
On the other side of the field, the outcome was the stuff of DeMayo’s nightmares.
With the bases loaded and one out when play resumed, the one thing that could have doomed North Haven actually came to pass: McGrath got Peyton Farina to line out to third baseman Gray Stephens.
“I was thinking we could have tried a squeeze play,” said DeMayo, who has built his distinguished, 60-year coaching career on the art of the bunt. “But with bases loaded and a force play at home it didn’t make too much sense, especially since (Farina) is one of the best hitters we have.
“I was just afraid of the line drive … and we got it.”
Guilford nearly doubled up the runner at first on the play, but after an umpire conference, he was declared safe.
No matter, McGrath got the final out on a grounder and Guilford’s bench exploded in celebration.
“Before we even got on the bus to come here, we were practicing on our field, hitting line drives to everyone,” McGrath said. “That actually helped us to prepare for this moment.”
With two outs in the top of the 10th, Guilford’s Ben Panagoulias reached and advanced to second on a throwing error. JohnLuke Cianciolo promptly smacked the go-ahead RBI single down the left field line.
That was more than enough for McGrath. Despite surrendering a one-out single to North Haven’s Kevin Lucey, the senior retired the final two batters. The last was a pop fly that catcher Matt Donlan caught in foul territory, eliciting another wild Guilford celebration that’s sure to last until Tuesday.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Ciancolo, who finished the two-day affair with two hits and two RBIs, one to help rally the Indians from a 4-1 deficit on Saturday and the other to win it on Sunday. “I’ve played with these kids since I was 10-years old and it’s a surreal moment, it really is.”
GUILFORD 5, NORTH HAVEN 4 (10)
GUILFORD 100 002 100 1— 5 12 0
NORTH HAVEN 040 000 00 0— 4 9 1
Batteries: G–Noah Rubino, Jack Strand (6), Matt McGrath (W, 9) and Matt Donlan; NH–Luca Lawrence, Zack Pincince (7), Nate Zalegoswki (L, 10), Ben Sbabo (10) and Kevin Lucey.