CHESHIRE — The quest for back-to-back Class LL state championships for Cheshire baseball began and almost ended Wednesday at Burt Leventhal Field.
Down 5-2 to No. 32 Farmington after five innings, the top-seeded Rams rallied to a 6-5 victory, scoring twice in the sixth inning and twice more to walk off in the seventh.
Farmington needed to beat Kennedy in the qualifying round on May 25 just for the right to play the No. 1 Rams, who after losing their first game of the season came in with a 22-game win streak that included a Southern Connecticut Conference championship.
The Rams rallied and won in a walk-off in that SCC final on Saturday. Turns out it was a dress rehearsal for Wednesday’s first-round state game.
Eli Battipaglia tripled home Ryan Cyr with the tying run in the seventh, then plated the game winner on Ryan Scialabba’s sacrifice fly.
“He’s come through this year with some timely hitting and he had a game-winning RBI not too long ago; he’ll put the bat to the ball,” said Cheshire coach Mike Lussier. “And to have Ryan (Scialabba) come up and get the ball in the field — we practice that all the time and we were tagging up no matter what on that one.”
Now 23-1, the Rams host SCC rival Shelton, the No. 16 seed, in a second-round game Thursday. The Gaels beat Conard 5-2 in their opening round game on Wednesday.
Farmington, three outs away from a stunning upset, finished 11-11.
The Indians, though, came to play. They took a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning, forcing starting pitcher Robert Roles off the rubber after just 3 2/3 innings.
A majority of Farmington’s runs came with two outs, including one by Jeff Sytulek on a double steal.
Cheshire answered immediately in the bottom of the fourth with two runs courtesy of hits by tri-captains Matt Downing and Ryan Strollo.
Farmington’s Jackson Ferrigno added what loomed as an insurance run with an RBI triple during the top of the fifth inning to put the Indians up 5-2.
That’s when Cheshire junior right-hander Michael Kozlowski was called to the mound in relief of Erik Gutowski to prevent any further damage.
Strollo, meanwhile, jolted life into the offense with a two-run home run to right field in the bottom of the sixth to bring Cheshire within one run, 5-4.
Strollo was the offensive hero of the game for Cheshire, going 2-for-3 with a double, the homer, two runs scored and three RBI.
“I was just going to the plate thinking base-to-base, move the runner over and get the run in, and I just saw the ball very well,” Strollo said. “It felt good off the bat and it felt good to have that momentum change.”
With Farmington leading 5-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the stage was set for the comeback victory. Cyr started it off with a base hit and advanced to second on a stolen base.
Next up was Battipaglia, who took one deep to right-center field for a RBI triple to tie the game at 6.
It was then up to Scialabba, the sophomore shortstop, to put the ball in play. He succeeded with the sac fly to right.
Farmington’s offense was led by Nick Calvecchia, who went 3-for-3 with one RBI.
Tyler Cortland went the distance for the Indians. Kozlowski got the win, giving up only one hit and striking out three over 2 2/3 innings.
Said Kozlowski, “I know our offense always produces, but to come from behind like that shows how we battle through adversity and it was just a great team win.”
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