MERIDEN - On the biggest stage, it was Jeremy Mercier again who was the hero for the Southington Legion baseball team.
The third baseman knocked a bases-loaded double in the fourth inning to give Southington a 3-2 lead over Ellington it would hold never relinquish Friday night. The win gives Southington a 1-0 lead in the state championship best-of-three series at Ceppa Field. Game 2 will be played today at 1 p.m.
The hit comes just days after Mercier crushed a grand slam against Cheshire to help Southington clinch a spot in the title series.
“You talk about the stuff of legends,” Southington head coach Marc Verderame. “Jeremy Mercier has been playing legendary. The other night against Cheshire, then tonight he gets the double. He’s got absolutely no pulse in these situations. He’s a gamer. I’m proud of him.”
Nick Borkowski got the start on the mound for Southington. He started off slow, giving up two runs in the first three innings. But he calmed down after the offense gave him the lead. In the complete game effort, Borkowski gave up seven hits, walked one and struck out two. Just one of the runs was earned - a Jake Romano error at shortstop brought home the second run.
“I knew I had to get it done for my team here,” Borkowski said. “I definitely didn’t have my best stuff tonight, especially with my changeup. I was leaving pitches up, which was definitely a problem early on, but I didn’t let it get me down. I knew we were going to score runs, so I had to just battle. It was just a great feeling.”
Outside of Romano’s error, the defense was solid behind Borkowski. The play of the game came in the fourth inning, when Brandon Kohl made a diving play in deep center, then doubled up the runner on first base.
Kohl and Dan Topper, along with Mercier, were the only other Southington batters to get on base more than once, drawing walks in the first and fourth innings.
The Southington offense didn’t help itself in terms of pitch selection. Ellington starter Brayden Barone struggled with control all game, but the Southington batters consistently swung at bad pitches early in the count - eight batters put the ball in play on the first pitch. Barone had four innings of 10-or-fewer pitches, but Verderame was adamant his team will continue to attack going into the second game.
“I preach aggressiveness,” Verderame said. “That’s why we steal so much. We’re going to keep running our offense. We’ve got kids who are aggressive. We’re fastball hitters. There were some bad at-bats up there, but that’s just the way we do things up here.”
Southington is now just one win away from its first state championship in 25 years. The two teams will meet again at Ceppa Field today for the second game. If Ellington wins that game, there will be another game later in the afternoon, with the winner taking home the state championship.
“One more road to cross,” Verderame said. “We have to stay hungry. We have one more to go. We’ve been down and out so many times. We’ve been to hell and back. These kids have heart. They don’t quit.”
Tyler Roaix can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org