This was Conard’s first win in the West Hartford Mayor’s Cup baseball game, played on Tuesday, May 26 at Fiondella Field at the University of Hartford, since the tradition was established in 2012.
By Ronni Newton
It wasn’t over until it was over, and Conard baseball players rushed the field in celebration, congratulating relief pitcher Michael Mathews for a play that saw Hall senior captain Neil Kelley attempting to steal home before being tagged out by Conard catcher Henry Fracasso.
A game between Conard and Hall is rarely boring, and this one did not disappoint.
Conard was leading 4-3 at the bottom of the seventh inning and Kelley, who had led off the inning with a single, had stolen twice and was at third base. Hall’s Ian Henderson was at the plate and there were two outs.
It was actually the second time Kelley was at third base in that inning. He had reached third on a bunt by Josh Singer, but after review that was called back for interference by the runner.
Henderson was called for a second strike and Fracasso tossed the ball back to Mathews who turned his back to return to the mound. That was when Kelley took the opportunity to try to steal home.
“The only reason I knew was because everyone was shouting,” Mathews said. He was able to turn around and throw the ball to Fracasso who tagged Kelley for Hall’s third out – a dramatic ending to the game between West Hartford’s crosstown rivals.
“We saw an opportunity and we went for it. It was a very, very close play,” Hall head coach Jeff Billing said after the game. “I’ll never second-guess my team,” he said.
Mathews, a sophomore, took over for senior Travis Abrahamsen in the sixth inning. Abrahamsen had replaced starting pitcher Brendan Dakin, who earned the win, in the fifth.
“I was really nervous,” Mathews, who was named game MVP, said about his outing.
“Feels great. I’m very happy for the senior guys,” Conard head coach Ty Bongiovanni said. He said that the previous day’s practice had been “loose,” and he felt good about the team’s chances going into the game.
Hall took the lead in the first inning on an RBI double that scored Kelley, but Conard answered with four runs off a series of singles and some defensive bobbles to take the lead 4-1 in the top of the second.
Hall picked up another in the bottom of the second on an RBI double off Kelley’s bat that scored Sam Dobbins. Dakin threw Kelley out at third to end the inning.
Hall senior captain Patrick McHale took over for starter Francis Byrne in the fourth, and although Conard got on base several times, the Chieftains weren’t able to reach home again.
Hall’s third run came off a double off the centerfield fence hit by junior Danny Roth that scored Kelley in the top of the fifth.
“I felt like we’ve had so many games like that go the other way that we were owed one. It was our time,” Bongiovanni said.
Bongiovanni praised the work of all three of his pitchers, including his closer. “The thing I’ve always liked about [Mathews] up there is that he’s really poised … he’s meant for situations like that.”
Conard, 5-14, did not earn a spot in the state tournament. The Chieftains will play their last game of the season on Wednesday against Windsor (14-5), a team currently ranked no. 8 in the area by the Hartford Courant.
Hall (8-12) has completed the regular season but will head to the state tournament next Monday. Billing said they will likely face no. 2 seed Fairfield Prep.
Billing said his message to the team after the game was that “There’s nothing I could say right now that’s going to take away the pain of defeat, and it’s because you compete and you care, you care about each other, and you care about the outcome.”
“The thing I had to say to them is that I’m really proud of them, and that I love them. We use the word love a lot in that dugout. Today we didn’t win the game but we played Hall baseball. We exemplified exactly what we believe in,” Billing said.
“Things didn’t go right but we fought and we battled.”
“And it’s nice that it’s not our last game,” said Billing. “We get to play at least seven more innings and make some things happen,” he said.
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