MIDDLETOWN >> If there ever was a team that defines the term resilient, it walked off Palmer Field Sunday afternoon as Class L state champions.
Down to its last strike in the seventh inning, 11th-seeded Notre Dame rallied to tie the game when Dylan Reynolds was hit by a pitch to bring home the tying run. The Green Knights scored three more times in the eighth to defeat fourth-seeded East Lyme 5-2.
The state title was Notre Dame’s sixth in eight attempts and second in three years. The Green Knights topped Masuk in 2014. The Green Knights finish the season 19-9.
“This means I can sleep tonight,” Notre Dame coach Don Martone said of his first title as head coach of the Green Knights.
“I am proud of these guys. We were 6-8 and we were spiraling in the wrong direction. We sat down at a team meeting to air everything out. In the (Fairfield) Prep game, Zach (Ardito) got a big hit for us and we went from there. All this is not possible without my assistant coaches. This is not possible without them.”
Notre Dame’s latest title did not come easily. The Green Knights trailed 2-0 entering the seventh inning, having failed to capitalize on opportunities throughout the game.
All of that was about to change.
Notre Dame senior Tyler Pyne led off the seventh with his second hit of the game and moved to second on a fielder’s choice. A wild pitch by East Lyme starter Dylan Feeney moved Pyne to third and Matt Martinello walked to put runners on the corners with one out.
East Lyme coach Jack Biggs replaced Feeney with Matt Spang, who promptly struck out Mike Secchiaroli. Just one out away from atoning for last season’s Class L championship loss to North Haven, the Vikings could not seal the deal.
Mike Torniero kept the Green Knights alive with a single to left to score Pyne. Zach Ardito walked to load the bases. Just one strike away, East Lyme saw its title hopes fade away when Reynolds was hit by a 2-2 pitch to force in the tying run.
Spang got the final out of the inning, but the momentum had completely swung to the Green Knights.
“It is unbelievable,” Reynolds said. “We have shown this fight all year. We fought to the end. I thought he was going to throw me a breaking ball and it was just a little inside. The seventh inning was the first time we had something go our way today. We just kept fighting.”
— Mike Madera (@MikeMadera2) June 12, 2016
After Ardito relieved starter Mike Sansone in the bottom of the seventh and got the Green Knights out of a jam, Notre Dame clinched the title with three runs in the eighth.
Mike Piechota led off the extra inning with a double and Spang was replaced on the hill by Ryan Kane. Pyne sacrificed Piechota to third, and, after Mike Dziczkowski was walked intentionally to set up a potential double play, Matt Martinello reached on an infield error at second to score Piechota for a 3-2 lead.
With two runners in scoring position and two outs, Torniero came up with his second big hit in as many innings. The sophomore’s single to right scored pinch-runner Charles Rhodes and Martinello for a 5-2 advantage.
“We were down the whole game,” Torniero said. “We kept battling and we were able to come out on top. We never give up. We always keep fighting. I love these guys.”
East Lyme, ranked ninth in the Register/GameTimeCT Top 10 poll, finished 20-6. The Vikings started the season 0-4, but won 16 games in a row to close the regular season and 20 of its last 22 games.
“We were one strike away,” Biggs said. “That’s baseball. Unfortunately, it did not bounce our way today. One game should not define who we are as a team or what we have done this year.”
Sansone was brilliant for the Green Knights, settling down after allowing two runs on two hits in the first inning. The sophomore did not allow another hit, walked four and struck out five in six plus innings of work.
“He was great out there,” Martone said of Sansone. “He did not let up anything after that first inning. It’s all in between the ears. We preach that all year. We emphasize it. We have to be strong mentally and he was today.”
East Lyme scored twice in the first inning on two extra base hits, which seemed to be than enough for Feeney.
Spang led off the game with a triple to right center off Sansone and Alex Tryon followed with a walk. Matt Abbey followed with a double to score Spang and Tryon for a 2-0 lead.
“I was missing my spots early,” Sansone said. “After the first inning, I was able to settle in and throw my pitches.”
Until the seventh, the Green Knights had runners on base in every inning except the second, but could not get the clutch hit. Feeney stranded a one-out double by Ardito in the first, getting a pair of fly ball outs.
The Green Knights had their oppportunities, including a pair of runners on the corners with two outs in the fourth on singles by Reynolds and Pyne. Feeney escaped without any damage as he got Dziczkowski on a grounder to short.
Notre Dame then looked as if it had a rally going in the sixth as Frank Longley singled with one out. With pinch-runner Kam Matthews on first, a grounder to short by Piechota was beat out by Matthews at second for an apparent infield single and two runners on.
Matthews came off the bag and was tagged out, but Biggs argued interference should have been called as Matthews came in straight up on shortstop Jared Hunt. After the umpire crew met, the play was overturned and a double play was ruled to end the inning.
Notre Dame-West Haven 5, East Lyme 2
Notre Dame-West Haven: 000 000 23 — 5 9 1
East Lyme: 200 000 00 — 2 2 2
(at Palmer Field)
WP — Zach Ardito; LP: Matt Spang
Batteries: NDWH — Michael Sansone, Zachary Ardito (7) and Matthew Martinello; EL — Dylan Feeney, Matt Spang (7); Ryan Kane and Miles Coe.
Team records: Notre Dame-West Haven 19-9; East Lyme 20-6.