By Hayley Tafuro
MIDDLETOWN — A sour feeling was how Staples’ Nate Panzer described it.
A storied Class LL tournament run ended a win short for the Wreckers, who dropped an 8-1 decision to Amity in the state championship game on Saturday at Palmer Field.
It was Amity’s third straight title.
“They shut us down offensively, and our pitching wasn’t really there today,” Panzer said. “We didn’t have our best game today but that doesn’t override the season we had.”
Amity jumped out to a 1-0 lead right away in the first when Mike Appel hit a solo home run to left field. The two teams traded solid defensive innings until Staples found an answer with another postseason hit from Panzer, this time a home run to tie the game.
“I thought that was going to be the jump-start that the team needed, kind of like what I did against Greenwich,” Panzer said.
“My first reaction was the biggest thing was going to be that next inning, we’ve got to shut them down and cut the momentum, but we couldn’t do it,” Staples coach Jack McFarland said. “They scored two runs after that. That was the crucial inning of the ball game right there.”
Those two runs stemmed from another hit from Appel, who had three of his team’s 11 hits. His single and stolen base brought up Matt Ronai, who hit a ball into the gap to drive in a run. Amity’s Devin Belenski then brought in Ronai to make it a 3-1 game: The start of the sour note, if you will.
Amity built on its lead in a lengthy fifth inning. Ben Casparius came in for Staples starting pitcher Ryan Fitton, a designed plan by McFarland. However despite the change, Amity continued its hitting streak and tallied five more runs on the scoreboard on another Appel hit as well as RBIs from Ronai and Chris Winkel.
“They came up with some big hits, they had a great day at the plate,” McFarland said. “The balls fell on the green grass, and we couldn’t find that green grass.”
An attack in the making from Staples looked as though it could turn into something in the sixth inning, when Phil McGovern and Panzer each had base hits. Amity pitcher Eli Oliphant (seven strikeouts) struck out Casparius and designated hitter Noah Yokoi grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Staples got just its fourth hit of the game in the bottom of the seventh when Ross Poulley got on base, but Amity closed it out, catching the final fly ball in rightfield.
“It’s disappointing, we came up short in both big games,” Panzer said, referring back to the FCIAC championship game. “The bottom line is we won twenty-plus games this season, and that’s a huge success to this program, and we lost to a tough Amity.”
Both teams ended their seasons with red-hot runs, but something had to give. As McFarland put it, sometimes that’s just the way it goes in single-elimination baseball.
“I’m proud of my kids and the way they battled,” he said. “I’m just so proud of the team and the seniors, you know, for getting here and getting to the finals. The season they’ve had, it’s been a great ride, and these seniors and this team really set the blueprint, and we’re going to learn from this.”
While the mood certainly was sour after the bells and whistles of the postgame ceremonies, as expected when an exciting season like the Wreckers had comes to an end, it’s easier to swallow knowing that the team’s “blueprint” is in good hands. This was proven by the valuable hitting from Panzer and the sensational sophomore class, which came up with poise even in the toughest of situations this season.
“The guys behind me all year have done a terrific job, and today we came up a little bit short, myself included,” Panzer said. “It’s the culmination of the entire season that matters, and we had a tremendous year and I could not be prouder of the guys that I played with.”