BERLIN - When Josh Cofransesco lasered a two-run double to the left-center field gap Tuesday afternoon, giving the St. Paul baseball team a 4-0 fifth-inning lead over Coventry, the momentum boost looked like it would carry the Falcons to their fifth state championship game appearance and first since winning a title in 2016.
Making his second start since suffering through shoulder inflammation in a game on May 11, Ethan Rembish had been dealing all day for St. Paul, having faced the minimum through four innings and allowing just two baserunners on a pair of walks.
But when the Patriots started the bottom of the fifth with a John Boutin leadoff double and a walk by Josh Malcom, Rembish - on a pitch-count limit by the St. Paul coaching staff - was pulled off the mound. Walker Sharp, typically a starter, came on in relief of Rembish, and the Patriots pieced together a comeback.
Matt LaFountaine’s RBI single and two-run doubles by Nik Freschlin and Jordan Jeroszko highlighted a five-run inning that boosted the second-seeded Patriots to a 6-4 Class S semifinals win over the sixth-seeded Falcons at Zipadelli Field.
“[Ethan] pitched a great game,” Falcons head coach Vic Rinaldi said. “We were thinking 80-85 [pitches] today, but after the fourth his velocity was kind of dropping a little bit. He was tiring, and that top of the fifth, it was not like him to be missing by so much, especially on his fastball. He wasn’t really getting a good feel for his slider. You could tell he was tired. I think that was just a result of him not pitching for three and a half weeks and not being built up.
“Obviously, in a semifinal game, he doesn’t wanna come out there, but coming off injury, you have to think big picture. He was showing signs of tiring there, and Walker’s been great for us all year.”
Sharp had helped the Falcons get to this stage by pitching a complete-game, three-hit shutout in a 1-0 first-round win over Sacred Heart. Rinaldi said they were confident going to the junior in the big spot, especially after the offense had provided a seemingly comfortable cushion in the top half of the frame after coming close to scoring several times in previous innings.
Facing Coventry starter Matthew Cook, the Falcons (18-6) saw the Patriots ace well all game, putting runners in scoring position in each of the first four frames but leaving five men on base. That included Julian Thayer getting caught stealing third to end the first, a terrific over-the-shoulder catch by left fielder Cole Lalli to rob Sharp of an RBI double to end the second and a sharply hit lineout by Ryan Parent to end the third with runners on first and second.
In the top of the fifth, St. Paul loaded the bases on three straight singles by Shaun Remillard, Ryan Daniels and Thayer, and Parent plated the game’s first run on a bizarre play.
With one out, Parent lifted a ball to the right side, and an infield fly rule was put into effect. Miscommunication, however, led to the ball dropping between Coventry first baseman Jack Terrance and second baseman LaFountaine. Remillard sprinted home and slid in safely for a 1-0 lead. Sean Crean then reached on an error by shortstop Jeroszko that scored Daniels, and Cofransesco pounded his double to score Thayer and Crean.
“Josh’s double I thought pretty much sealed the deal for us,” Rinaldi said. “I said to the coaches, we need a shutout inning here, and that’ll pretty much seal the deal if we come out of this inning without any runs.”
The Patriots (22-2) ensured that wouldn’t happen, as Jon Rogers drew a walk once Sharp took the hill, and LaFountaine poked his single to shallow center. With two outs and facing a 1-2 count, Freschlin pulled a sharply hit ball that tipped under the backhanded glove of Cofransesco at third, officially going down as a two-run double, and Jeroszko followed with his own two-run double by finding the right-center gap.
“Walker hasn’t really come out of the pen much for us this year. He’s predominantly been a starter for us,” Rinaldi said. “Maybe he didn’t have a lot of time to warm up, and he might not have been as sharp as he normally is. That being said, I don’t think they hit him too hard.”
In the sixth, Malcom gave Coventry insurance with an RBI single, and Lalli, who earned the win with 2⅓ hitless shutout innings in relief of Cook, shut down the heart of the St. Paul lineup (Daniels, Thayer, Parent) in order in the seventh to send his club to the state title game.
“Baseball’s a humbling sport, and that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Rinaldi said. “I told them to keep their heads up. It was a successful season.”
All season long, the Falcons have given some of their best performances with their backs against the wall.
First came a sixth-inning rally over Holy Cross on May 1. That preceded back-to-back comebacks in the sixth over Torrington and Wolcott the following week. Then, the most impressive, a rally from down 2-0 in the seventh for a win over Portland in Saturday’s quarterfinals. But against Coventry, roles were reversed, sending St. Paul home short of its ultimate goal.
“We go from the extreme high Saturday to now,” Rinaldi said. “In the top of the fifth, we’re running high, and then they smack us right back.
“I think outside those five runs, we played a really good state tournament. We just had one bad inning.”
Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org