By GERRY deSIMAS, JR.
Connecticut Sports Online
WEST HAVEN, June 11, 2005 – For fans and players of the Canton High baseball team, it’s hard not to dwell on the missed opportunities in Saturday’s Class S championship game with Windsor Locks at historic Yale Field.
A state championship was there for the taking to validate all of the hard work performed by the team this season and over the last several years.
But it didn’t happen for No. 7 Canton (17-6), whose string of exciting tournament victories came to an end.
In the quarterfinals, Joe McGuigan’s dying fly ball to center field in the bottom of the seventh inning beat N.W. Catholic by a run. In the semifinals against Morgan, Canton was one strike away from losing in the bottom of the seventh but Heath Cotton’s RBI single tied the game and Sean Bahre’s RBI single in the ninth won the game.
It was Windsor Locks that went home ecstatic with its first state championship trophy since 1966 after outlasting Canton, 4-3 in 12 innings. Senior pitcher Mike Quagliaroli pitched 8 2/3rd innings of shutout relief, striking out 11. He also hurt at the plate with his two-out RBI single to left field in the bottom of the 12th inning to win the game.
“Let’s say just this – we were fortunate to win, OK,” Windsor Locks coach David Farr said. “How evenly matched were these two teams? We were just a little luckier.”
They also executed. Locks left fielder Andy Wells threw out Canton’s Christian Plourd trying to score in the 10th inning. Wells also made a tremendous basket catch on a key fly ball deep by Ian Bossert to right field in the eighth inning.
“What can you say? We had our shot,” Canton coach Brian Roy said. “We didn’t execute on bunts when we should have.” In the final five innings, Canton stranded eight runners.
Their best chance came in the top of the seventh with the game tied at 3-3. Bossert and Mike Connon led off the inning with walks and moved to second and third base on a successful sacrifice bunt by Plourd. Bahre followed with a deep line drive to Wells in left field. Bossert tagged, took a few steps and retreated back to the bag.
Canton fans groaned after seeing Wells throw the ball softly to shortstop, meaning he wasn’t even going to challenge the play at the plate.
“He thought he didn’t have it so he didn’t go,” Roy said of Bossert. “You can’t blame it on him.” Quagliaroli struck out Cotton to end the threat.
In the ninth, Canton had runners on first and second with one out thanks to an error, wild pitch and intentional walk. But McGuigan lined out to shortstop and Cotton popped out to the catcher.
In the 10th, Nick Smyth and Dan Podelsa led off with back-to-back singles. Matt Valley flew out to left field but Bossert singled to left field. Roy sent Smyth home from second base but Wells fired a perfect strike home to catcher Rob Boscarino to throw out Smyth at the plate.
“It takes just one play and you have to have a little luck,” Farr said. “If he doesn’t throw him out, they could’ve won.”
That seemed to suck the lift out of the Canton offense as Quagliaroli retired seven of the next eight batters including five by strikeout.
Limited by CIAC rules to protect pitchers, Cotton (13-0) had stop pitching after 10 innings. He scattered six hits, allowed three runs and fanned four.
“Cotton was one of the hardest opponents we have faced,” Quagliaroli said. “Knowing we got him out of the game was the biggest thing.”
Added Roy, “On basically three days rest, he threw 10 strong innings. Nothing but a bulldog is that kid. He’s the heart and soul of this team.”
Quagliaroil (8-1) entered the game in the fourth inning with the Raiders trailing 3-0. Thanks to two walks and a RBI single from Valley, Canton took a 1-0 lead in the second inning of starter Chad Giannuzzi. They extended it in the fourth inning with one run scoring on a wild pitch and an a RBI single by Bossert.
Locks (19-4) cut the lead to one in the fifth on a two-RBI single from Craig Kulak and tied the game in the sixth. Leadoff batter Jordan English coaxed a walk from Cotton, took second a successful sacrifice bunt and scored on a RBI single from Nick Roy.
In the 12th inning, Giannuzzi coaxed a two-out walk from Valley (4-3), outran a pickoff attempt to swipe second base and scored on Quagliaroli’s single.
“They all came to play today,” Roy said of Canton. “They left their hearts on the field and everything they had out there. I have no complaints about any one of them. They’ve done a great job for us all year and have done everything I’ve asked. They’ve been great. We have nothing to be ashamed of.” n
Windsor Locks 4, Canton 3 (12)
At West Haven
Canton (17-6) 010 200 000 000 -- 3-9-1 Windsor Locks (19-4)000 021 000 001 -- 4-8-1
Heath Cotton, Matt Valley (11) and Nick Kucia; Chad Giannuzzi, Mike Quagliaroli (4) and Rob Boscarino; WP – Quagliaroli (8-1), LP – Valley (4-3); 2B – Kulas (WL)
Canton advanced to its first championship game since 1986 with a thrilling 5-4 semifinal win over Morgan in nine innings on June 7 at Palmer Field in Middletown.
Heath Cotton went the distance, striking out 15, scattering seven hits and hitting seven. He threw 140 pitches.
Cotton tied the game with two outs in the seventh with his RBI single up the middle scored Christian Plourd from second base.
In the ninth, Connon led off with a single, stole second and took third on a sacrifice bunt from Plourd. Bahre’s RBI single to right field allowed Connon to score the game-winning run and give Canton its sixth late-inning victory of the year. ... Morgan stranded 12 runners.
"We thought about taking him out at one point but he said no," Canton coach Brian Roy told The Clinton Recorder. "He wanted the ball. I don't think he had his best stuff tonight but given the circumstances, it was his greatest performance."
Cotton his two batters in the ninth but fanned two and coaxed a ground ball from Mike Scott to end the threat.
Cotton, Bahre and Connon earned spots on the All-NCCC team. ... Roy was very disappointed that Cotton was left off the All-State team. … Canton and Windsor Locks shared the NCCC title this season (14-2) with Locks beating Canton 7-0 earlier this season and Canton winning the rematch, 1-0. n