Ehrlich pitches six strong innings for the Warriors against crosstown West Hartford rival Conard.
By Paul Palmer
They are two teams going in different directions this season. Hall’s varsity baseball team carried a 13-5 record and a guaranteed place in the state baseball tournament into Monday’s game. Conard was looking for just their fourth win of the season, and a sweep of Hall in the season series.
On a sun-filled day with a large crowd on hand both teams had some sterling moments, but in the end, it was junior Ixael Albino’s single in the fifth that was the difference in the Warriors 4-3 win.
Both teams sent their aces to the mound with senior David Cantarella going for the Chieftains, and senior Seth Ehrlich on the bump for the Warriors. While both had moments where they struggled, they each turned in solid performances.
Cantarella went five innings, giving up just five hits and four runs while striking out seven, but he was out-dueled by Ehrlich who went six innings, giving up just three hits, one earned run, and striking out eight Conard batters.
Ehrlich’s gutsiest moment may have come in the sixth inning. Holding a 1-run lead, and having thrown 100 pitches, he faced a 2-on, 2-out situation. Coach Nick Marsh was making his way to the mound to make a pitching change, but Ehrlich threw his coach a change-up. “He said to me, ‘One more, I’ve got this,’” according to Marsh. But the move almost backfired when Conard’s Emmett Coco drilled a line shot that Hall shortstop Cole Kocienda managed to lunge at and spear before it went by him and into the outfield, allowing the tying run to score.
Playing for the Mayor’s Cup – an annual tradition that was missed when the pandemic canceled the 2020 season – there was a little pomp and circumstance before the game, including a first pitch that was thrown out by Joe Mancini who had coached Conard baseball for 30 years before stepping down in 2007.
Hall got on the board first when Tommy LaSpada singled to left driving in Alex Ciafone from second. Conard would answer in the top of the second when senior second baseman Luis Vargas – who was Conard’s hitting star on the day – drove an Ehrlich offering to deep left for a double, scoring Kaleb DeJesus who had doubled on the previous pitch. Vargas would later drive in another run with a long sacrifice fly as he went 2-for-2 on the day. After advancing to third on a pitch in the dirt, Vargas would put Conard back in front when he scored on Albino’s error.
With the visitors holding a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth, Hall manufactured a pair of runs to tie things up. Albino led off with a single, and after a fielder’s choice, Kocienda walked and when Cantarella threw ball four to Ehrlich, the ball skipped past catcher Scott LaBranch, allowing Albino to score and Kocienda to get to third. Ciafone followed with a sac fly to right and the game was tied at 3.
Conard got two runners on in the fifth on a pair of singles, but Ehrlich fielded a comebacker to get the final out of the inning himself. In the bottom of the inning, Hall would take the lead that they would never relinquish.
Drew Seidman led off with single to left and two batters later it was Albino delivering the go-ahead and eventual game-winning run with his line drive to left that plated Seidman.
Speaking of his junior second baseman Albino, Coach Marsh said he believes the best is yet to come. “He’s just scratching the surface of his talent. He’s coming off a serious ACL injury suffered in basketball season a year ago,” said Marsh.
Down to their last at bats in the seventh, Conard had to face Siedman who had been successful as a closer for Marsh and the Warriors all season. He would get two quick outs before hitting Vargas in the side, but then striking out LaBranch on a 1-2 pitch to end the game.
Despite the loss, Conard first-year coach Brendan Smith was proud of what his team had accomplished on the season. “We got better every day. Our schedule has us playing 17 of 19 tournament teams,” he said. “Our culture is strong and growing.”
The Chieftains (3-16) will finish the year Tuesday when they host Simsbury at home in West Hartford.
Both Ehrlich and Seidman made their jobs easier by getting first pitch strikes. Ehrlich got 18 first pitch strikes against the 30 Conard batters he faced, and Seidman was ahead of three of the four hitters he faced in the final inning.
Hall must now wait until Friday to find out who they will play in the first round of the CIAC Tournament. Heading into Monday’s game the Warriors were ranked 10th in Class LL which should get them a home game for the opener next week. In the meantime, Marsh has scheduled two scrimmages to keep his team sharp and keep them focused.
“We will get our mind right,” said Marsh, who will be coaching for the first time in the playoffs. As for Monday’s win, he wants his players to enjoy it, but not dwell on it. “ You always want to beat your rival, yes you want to beat Conard, but we have higher goals now too.”
On the season, Ciafone posted a .381 batting average in league games, with 20 RBI and 11 extra base hits. Seidman finished with a .390 BAA, LaSpada posted a .333 BAA with 9 RBI. On the mound, it was Ehrlich leading the way, throwing 40 innings with a 4-1 record in eight starts. He struck out 53 batters and allowed just 14 walks, pitching to a 2.45 ERA.
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