Conard won Monday’s West Hartford Mayor’s Cup baseball game 3-2 against crosstown rival Hall, retaining the trophy they won for the first time in 2015.
By Ronni Newton
Just before Monday’s game the Conard baseball team vowed to keep the Mayor’s Cup trophy in “their house,” and after another close and intense contest against crosstown rival Hall, the Chieftains did just that.
The final play of the game – a walk-off walk – was not something many players or coaches have ever seen before.
As has been said many times before, a game between Conard and Hall, especially one with a large shiny trophy at stake, is rarely boring. The players may be high school rivals, but the friendships cross those boundaries and many students have been and still are teammates on travel, American Legion, or other teams.
“I was supposed to take a pitch until I saw a strike because Derek had just walked the last two hitters. That was what coach told me to do,” said senior Sam Newton, who was the final batter in what he knew would be his last ever high school baseball game.
Newton, a patient player who often draws a walk [Editor’s note: Yes, he is my son, and is not otherwise very patient.] was the fifth player to come up in the bottom of the seventh with the score tied at 2. There was one out. Newton faced Hall pitcher Derek Berube – an opponent he knew well from playing together in the past – who had taken over in the seventh as relief for starter Chase Jeter who had reached his pitch count.
Senior Kenny Andrews had led off the seventh inning with a hit, but a pinch runner who took his place at first had gotten picked off in a rundown. Sam Porcello, who had his second hit of the game, was pushed to third by walks from Kevin Puleo and Patrick Baron.
“In the bottom of the seventh I felt we had a really good shot. With the walks that occurred, I saw that the pitcher was losing a little of his composure,” Conard head coach Sanjay Rambhia said. During a time out he told Newton to be smart at the plate: “A walk brings in the winning run. You don’t have to swing for the fences. Do the right thing.”
Newton said he wasn’t really tempted to swing because he was ahead of the count. “I knew that a walk in that situation was just as good as anything else.”
A walk-off walk isn’t very common. “I didn’t know what to do, if I had to run to first,” Newton said. “But it’s better safe than sorry,” he said. “In my last game of my senior season it was great to have a big part of the win.”
Porcello ran from third to home, and joined the rest of the team chasing Newton down the first base line where the players ended up in a celebratory pig pile.
Jeter pitched the first six innings for Hall. Head coach Jeff Billing said it was the sophomore left hander’s turn in the rotation, plus he had been Hall’s best pitcher lately, throwing a complete game last Tuesday for a win against Glastonbury.
Conard scored first when Colby Jones stole home at the end of the second inning. Hall tied it up in the fourth with a sacrifice by Omar Montalvo that scored Tyrek Robinson.
RJ Michaels‘ double in the top of the fifth scored Phil Gitman – who was pinch-running for Colin Campagna – and put Hall ahead 2-1.
Conard tied it right up at the bottom of the fifth on a two-out RBI hit by Joe Celio that scored Patrick Baron.
Hall came out strong in the sixth, with a pair of singles by Danny Roth and Montalvo. Roth and Montalvo, both senior captains, were on second and third when Jeter came up.
Conard has struggled in the late innings this season. The first meeting between the schools this year was close until the bottom of the sixth when Hall scored a few runs before Roth hit a grand slam and Hall won 11-2.
Baron was playing a shallow center field for Conard, and was well-positioned to catch Jeter’s hit, ending the inning and stranding Roth and Montalvo. Baron said later that he’s played with Jeter for years, and had a good idea where the ball would go.
Rambhia, in his first year as Conard’s head coach, admittedly has had a frustrating season with a young team that won just four games including Monday’s victory over Hall. Five of the games were lost by only one run and two of the losses were in extra innings – one of which was finished weeks later after being suspended for darkness.
Berube was visibly shaken at the way the game ended. “Derek’s a passionate player. He plays with his emotions and it’s what’s gotten him this far,” Billing said. “He’s going to give it anything he has,” said Billing.
“Conard played a great game. I know this a really emotional win for them, a really exciting win for them,” Billing said after the game. “I’ve been the team that’s not going to the state tournament that wins this game and it ends your season on a positive note, so I’m really happy for them, really happy for coach Sanjay his first year to get the win.”
Conard pitcher Michael Mathews, who went the distance for the win, was thrilled to be named MVP for the second year in a row. He gave up just six hits to a powerful Hall offense that scored 11 runs the last time the teams met.
Conard ended its season Monday with a 4-16 record. Hall, 10-9, has one more regular season game Wednesday against a strong Bristol Eastern team. Hall has been playing strong baseball, and last week was 4-1 with the only loss a 2-1, nine-inning battle with Plainville
The Warriors have secured a spot in the Class LL tournament which begins May 31, and Billing said that the Bristol Eastern game will be a great contest to get the team ready for states.
CPTV filmed the game and it will be broadcast Friday night at 7 p.m. and each night at 7 p.m. throughout the Memorial Day weekend. Click here for highlights.
The Mayor’s Cup game was also live-streamed by WHC-TV as a production of the War-Chiefs Sports Council, and broadcast times will be announced.
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