MIDDLETOWN >> Rocky Hill-Cromwell-Portland baseball coach Jay Hickey stood by the batting cages at Monnes Field on the eve of the American Legion Northeast Regional tournament and wondered, “Why not us?”
Six days later Hickey got the answer of a lifetime.
Tommy Seaver lined a single into a right field to score Christian Budzik with the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth as RCP capped a memorable day with a come-from-behind 5-4 victory over Milford (Mass.) in the tourney finals Monday night at William J. Pomfret Stadium.
RCP (30-9), which eliminated host Middletown earlier in the day, captured the program’s first regional championship and will play defending champion Brooklawn (N.J.) in the opening game of the World Series on Thursday in Shelby, North Carolina.
“Just getting into the Northeast was great but now going to the World Series is unbelievable,” said Hickey. “We knew it was a special team because we had pitching, but no one expected this. We started playing well at the right time and it played right into this.”
After losing to Cheshire in the state finals, RCP regrouped to go 5-1 in the regionals. Their improbable run included victories over New Hampshire state champion Dover, Vermont state champ Essex, and Milford, the 11-time Massachusetts state champs.
“You always dream and take things one game at a time but the World Series is actually a reality and it’s unreal,” said RCP third baseman Chris Bouchard, who was named the tourney MVP.
Mike Ryan, Blake Hill, Kevin Lynch and Brendan Pounds each had two hits for Milford (28-11).
“These guys were one win away from going to the World Series so they have absolutely nothing to put their head down for,” said Milford coach Steve DiVitto. “You have to tip your cap to RCP. They kept battling when they were down 4-1. We wish them the best of luck in Shelby.”
Winning pitcher Cole Ogorzalek, who led Portland to a Class S state title last June, went the distance for RCP. The righthander, who tossed a five-hit shutout against Middletown on Friday night, scattered 11 hits, walked two and struck out three.
“Cole did a super job for us,” said Hickey. “It wasn’t looking pretty that’s for sure but Cole gutted it out. He wanted the game and he kept us in it.”
After giving up an unearned run in the top of the first, RCP tied it in the fifth against Milford starter Dan Mantoni (six innings, six hits, four runs). Josh Zawisa lined a two-out double to left and Budzik tripled to the fence in right-center field.
Milford took a 4-1 lead on consecutive RBI hits from Mike Cafarella, Kevin Lynch and Matt Decina in the top of the sixth.
But once again RCP rallied to tie it, scoring three runs in the seventh. After loading the bases with no outs with the help of an infield error and a hit batsmen, Budzik lined an RBI infield single and, with the bases still full, Brendan Sullivan was hit by a pitch and Zawisa scored on a wild pitch to tie it at 4.
Ogorzalek got out of a bases loaded jam in the eighth and then stranded two runners in the ninth, setting the stage for a thrilling finish.
Budzik drew a lead-off walk against Milford reliever Dan Avery to start the ninth. Brendan Sullivan’s sacrifice bunt moved Budzik to second and Seaver ripped a liner to right, just out of the outstretched glove of Pounds.
“He’s got some of the best wheels I’ve ever seen and I’d be shocked if he wasn’t close to catching that ball,” said DiVitto. “He took a great angle, went after the ball and laid out. There’s nothing more you can ask for there.”
Seaver was the winning pitcher for Rocky Hill in the Class M state championship game.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play and get the run,” said Seaver. “Christian did a great job forcing the walk and then Brendan doing the job getting him over. We definitely had the bats to come back. We’ve been hitting all year so we knew we’d make a run for it at the end.”
Said Ogorzalek, “I’m at a loss for words right now, the fact that we’re going to North Carolina to play some of the best teams in the nation. It’s unreal.”