Hall High School avenged an earlier season loss against crosstown West Hartford rival Conard High School with a 7-4 win in the annual Mayor’s Cup baseball game played Tuesday at the University of Hartford’s Fiondella Field.
By Ronni Newton
Hall High School ace pitcher Chase Jeter went the distance Tuesday, striking out 14, and with the support of strong hitting from the offense led his team to a 7-4 victory over Conard High School in the annual Mayor’s Cup baseball game played at the University of Hartford’s Fiondella Field.
Since the Mayor’s Cup was first awarded for baseball in 2012, Hall has now won it four times – the first three years and 2017. Conard took home the trophy in both 2015 and 2016.
A game between Conard and Hall – where the players may be high school rivals but friends and teammates on travel and other teams – is rarely without drama, especially when a large shiny trophy and bragging rights are at stake, and this one did not disappoint.
Righty Michael Mathews, Conard’s ace who earned MVP honors for wins in the past two Mayor’s Cup contests, was on the mound again Tuesday.
Hall took a 1-0 lead early, when Bryan Renker’s long ball to center got by Conard’s Patrick Baron and Renker made it all the way around the bases to score on a rare inside-the-park homer.
The team needed something to kick start the engine,” Billing said. The play did just that, he said.
Mathews’ remained strong and unrattled through the next several innings, despite a couple of bumps in the field, until the bottom of the fourth when one Hall hitter after another connected with the ball and Hall score six runs.
Conard tied the score 1-1 in the top of the third on Baron’s RBI single that scored Dominic Niman.
Jeter loaded the bases when he walked Conard’s Joe Celio, and a sacrifice fly by Colby Jones sent Max Main home and put the Chieftains on top 2-1.
Sam Porcello scored on a double by Niman in the top of the fourth, and Max Main sent Niman home, pushing the score to 4-1.
The momentum shifted in the bottom of the fourth when Patrick O’Keefe led off with a single, followed by Colin Fitzsimonds who also singled, and a perfectly-placed bunt by Jeter loaded the bases.
O’Keefe was thrown out at home, but Fitzsimonds and Jeter scored on a long drive to center by Michael Ciccarello. Colin Kuzia’s single knocked in a run by Griffin Van Rye to tie the game at 4.
Andrew Nicklas hit a long single RBI to center, and a double by Renker sent Kuzia and Benjamin Castro home to give Hall the 7-4 lead.
“They had some good hits, some really good hits. We made a couple of mistakes and they really piled it on us,” Conard coach Sanjay Rambhia said.
The fourth inning ended in a rundown when Conard catcher Sam Porcello tagged Nicklas at third base.
Jeter retired the side at the top of the fifth, and Niman took over the mound for Conard at the bottom of the inning.
The score remained 7-4 in Hall’s favor as Jeter and Niman faced just three batters each in the sixth.
Jeter struck out Niman and Matt Langevin in the top of the seventh, but gave up a hit to Baron. The game ended when Celio hit a grounder to first and Hall made the play.
Billing said that going into the game no one thought it would be easy, but the real story was Jeter’s pitching, Hall coach Jeff Billing said.
“Chase’s performance on the mound was what he’s given us all year long. It was excellence. His command of his fastball is beyond where most 17 year-old boys are at … he really works off the fastball and gives hitters a nightmare,” Billing said.
This is the fourth complete game Jeter has thrown this year, including a perfect game on April 10. As the pitch count was climbing, Billing initially wanted to take Jeter out in the sixth.
“I didn’t ask. There was no question mark. He wanted this for his team, very very badly … You can talk about velocity, you can talk about command, you can talk about all that but the kid’s a winner. Chase Jeter’s a winner. He demands of himself to put his team in a place where they can win and he does it the right way. He’s a true joy to coach,” Billing said.
Hall’s run in the fourth “was guys refusing to get out. The energy and vibe were amazing,” he said.
Leaders on offense for Hall were Fitzsimonds with three hits as well as O’Keefe, Billing said.
Prior to the game – actually the day before the game, when it had started raining and a decision was made to postpone the baseball game to the next day – Conard and Hall captains presented a check for $1,100 to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life West Hartford team.
Those funds were raised during the May 1 “Strike Out Cancer” game between the teams, held at Conard. Relay for Life New England Senior Director Alexis Maliga and Cami Ferreira, an American Cancer Society “Hero in Purple,” were on hand to accept the check.
Despite the loss Tuesday, Conard ended the regular season on an up note as the Chieftains, with an 11-9 record, head into postseason play for the first time in four years.
“That’s the bonus,” Rambhia said. He said that in the beginning of the year he told the team that the goal for the regular season was to make the postseason. Winning Tuesday may have increased the chances of a first-round home game, but Rambhia said, “Regardless of whether we are home or away we have some quality pitching.”
Rambhia said that several scrimmages have been scheduled in preparation for the playoffs, which begin next week. Pairings will be announced on Friday.
Hall stands at 13-6, with the Warriors’ final regular season game against 14-5 New Britain scheduled for Wednesday evening at Beehive Stadium at Willow Brook Park.
Hall will also head to the postseason and will find out details of the first opponent on Friday.
Billing said that this year was the first time Hall had won 13 games in a regular season since at least the 1971, the oldest record he could find.
Hall has five consecutive wins, great momentum heading into the playoffs.
“We always have each others’ backs. We’re going to play hard and give it our all,” O’Keefe said.
Reclaiming the Mayor’s Cup “feels amazing,” Billing said. O’Keefe agreed. “It’s really good feeling,” he said.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!