BERLIN — Holy Cross was determined to get back to the state finals after a one-year hiatus, but Jack Kennedy had plans of his own.
The right-hander from Shepaug Valley pitched with guts and guile, leading the fourth-seeded Spartans to a 2-1 upset of top-seeded Holy Cross in the Class S baseball semifinals at Sage Park on Tuesday.
“Jackie, he just battles,” Shepaug Valley coach Scott Werkhoven said. “He gets ahead, he gets after guys, he doesn’t back down. He showed a lot of guts there today.”
It was a welcomed sight for the Spartans (20-4), who used dominant pitching from Kennedy and Chance Dutcher and timely hitting to advance to their first state final since 1999. Second baseman Joe Brunelli’s one-out double in the fifth inning stood up as the winning hit.
Shepaug Valley will play second-seeded Coventry — a 6-4 winner over St. Paul Catholic on Tuesday — on Friday or Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown. The Spartans are 5-4 all-time in the state finals, including a 2-1 victory over Cromwell in Class S 20 years ago.
“Anytime you go to the finals, it means a lot,” Werkhoven said. “This is a special group.”
“We’re a baseball town,” Kennedy added. “We’ve been working for a long time. It just feels great for it to finally go our way.”
Holy Cross pushed the tying run to third base with two outs in the seventh, however, Dutcher got Tim Zupkus to fly out to end it. The Crusaders ended the season at 23-4.
“We came up a little bit short today,” HC coach Mike Phelan said. “We didn’t meet our expectations. We truly expected to win a state championship, but give credit to them. They got a couple big hits, and they were able to get big outs when they needed to.”
Kennedy struck out only four, but he kept batters off-balance with a heavy supply of curveballs. The senior scattered six hits over 52/3 innings, surrendering his only run on a first-inning single by catcher Brian Parzyck.
Holy Cross squandered a quality outing by right-hander Austin Brown, who allowed just six hits and struck out six over 61/3 innings. The senior allowed just a sacrifice fly by Owen Hibbard in the second before running into trouble three innings later.
A walk to Dutcher to lead off the fifth set the table for Brunelli, who laced a double into the right-field gap to put Shepaug Valley ahead. Holy Cross didn’t score again despite putting five runners on over the final three innings.
“We just didn’t get that big hit like we have all year,” Phelan said. “Both of their guys did a good job, especially (Kennedy). His pitch count was low. He did a good job.”
COVENTRY 6, ST. PAUL 4
Second-seeded Coventry used a five-run fifth inning to rally past sixth-seeded St. Paul Catholic in the Class S semifinals.
Shortstop Jordan Jeroszko’s two-run double gave the Falcons (24-2) the lead for good in the fifth. Matt LaFountaine and Nik Freschlin also drove in runs in the frame, as the school advanced to the state finals for the second straight year.
St. Paul finished the season at 19-7.