NEWINGTON — In the end, there were not many dry eyes around Xavier’s baseball team — coaching staff included. When a club enjoys being together as much as the Falcons have in 2019, letting go Wednesday was not easy.
After rallying from a three-run deficit against No. 9 seed Newington an inning earlier in a Class LL first-round game, Xavier’s season came to a crushing halt in the bottom of the seventh. Ryan Saindon slashed a two-out hit into left field, just inside the line, to score Gunnar Johnson from second to give the Indians a 5-4 first-round victory.
The opposite-field poke came on Xavier senior right-hander Brendan Lenehan’s 108th pitch and fell just past the glove of freshman Drew Kron, who rushed in hard and tried to make a diving catch.
“It’s tough,” said Lenehan, who allowed only two earned runs on eight hits, walked three and struck out three. “(JV) Coach (Tyler) Pachetti last week said you always remember the last play, and to have it be a walk-off, it hurts. But we’ll get over it.
“The love on this team — everybody loves each other. There’s not an odd man out here. Everyone’s one big family. It was great to be a part of it.”
Xavier’s 10-11 season included an early-April statement win over Staples, the current No. 2 team in the GameTimeCT Top 10, and a midseason stretch of six wins in eight games, beginning with a road victory over eventual SCC champion Fairfield Prep that helped to propel the Falcons to a tournament berth.
“They were a fun bunch, a dedicated bunch, a hard-working group of kids,” Xavier coach Nick Cerreta said. “I’ve been coaching for 15 years and it’s the best group I’ve had in 15 years, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They never, ever quit. As a coach, it’s all you can ask for in your players every day.”
Xavier jumped out to a 1-0 lead in its first at-bat against Newington starter John Kelley when Kron drove in Bryce Hammen with a double down the line in left. The Falcons looked primed for more, but stranded runners on second and third.
Newington (15-6) loaded the bases in the third and ended up scoring two runs without Lenehan allowing a hard-hit ball. First baseman Luke Lappe mishandled a bunt with the bases loaded, with Jordan Brunetti scoring on the error, and Kelley’s sacrifice fly put the Indians up 2-1.
The game appeared to swing in Newington’s favor for good in the fifth, when the Indians scored twice for a 4-1 advantage without getting a Lenehan pitch out of the infield. A string that read walk, bunt for a hit, bunt for a hit, walk, fielder’s choice grounder and an error produced the runs.
Lenehan kept his composure and caught Saindon looking at a full-count fastball for the second out, and then got Zach Nakonechny to fly to center to end the inning.
“I told the players after the game, a lot of teams would have rolled over at that point,” Cerreta said. “It could easily have been 7-1, 8-1, with the bases-loaded jam (in the fifth).”
And that was a credit to Lenehan, who was accustomed to giving his team complete-game efforts in big spots. Newington, he said, was unlike any opponent he’s faced this season.
“It was rough,” he said. “Every kid on that team battles. Every out was hard to come by. They were different, aggressive and patient at the same time. They knew how to work counts. No one went down easy, not at all.
Before the Falcons rallied, they had very good chances to tack on runs in the middle innings but came away empty. In the third, Nico Kulpick reached on a one-out error and stole second, but Kelley, who will pitch at Central Connecticut State next year, got a flyout and groundout to end it.
In the fourth, Giancarlo Genovese’s two-out hit kept the inning going, putting runners at first and second (Tyler Lappe) with Hammen coming to the plate. But John Lasko, who was sent in to run for Lappe, was immediately picked off second, ending any threat Xavier could have mounted.
The Falcons finally broke through in the sixth.
Luke Lappe led off with a single to center and moved to second when Bryce Pill reached on a one-out error by Brunetti at third. Tyler Lappe singled to load the bases, and Drew Errera’s grounder brought in Luke Lappe. Pill scored on a wild pitch and Genovese, a role player and Xavier’s designated hitter in the No. 9 hole Wednesday, followed it with a double over Saindon’s head in right field to score Errera.
“He’s never once complained because he wasn’t an every-day player,” Cerreta said of Genovese. “Today he really accepted his role, I had the confidence in him, he got on base a couple of times and really got into one. He’s going to be a big part of our team next year. When guys like that come in and step up, you’re really proud of them.”
Newington coach Ben Alaimo knows Cerreta and his coaching staff well and credited them with having Xavier prepared to beat his team. Alaimo also took note that Xavier’s Class of 2019 graduated last week, meaning the Falcons’ seniors really were breaking away from their teammates for the very last time.
“But they continued to say poised,” Alaimo said. “Being down 4-1 late, some teams will stop fighting and Xavier didn’t and that’s credit to Nick and Tony and his coaching staff over there. All the compliments to those guys.
“We knew Xavier was going to come back a little bit, fight back, that they weren’t going to lay down, and they didn’t. I was proud of our guys for handling that adversity with poise and confidence.”
Ethan Errera got the final four outs in relief of Kelley for the win.