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Late-game dramatics are nothing new to Newtown High School’s baseball team which, heading into a May 16 visit to Masuk of Monroe, had been involved in seven games decided by just one run, including consecutive walk-off finishes — a 2-1 loss at Bethel on May 12 and a 3-2 eight-inning win over visiting New Fairfield, at Fairfield Hills, on May 15. The clash with Masuk, however, takes the cake for longest contest.
The game was deadlocked at 7-7 through 11 innings of play when the three-and-a-half-hour battle was halted because of darkness. In an odd finish to the regular season, the Panthers and Nighthawks were slated to resume the game on Thursday, May 18, at 3:30 pm, a day after Masuk’s original season finale, against Notre Dame-Fairfield. This is Newtown’s regular-season finale and is an important one for both teams as they jockey for positioning in the South-West Conference playoffs, set to begin on Saturday, May 20.
It was a slugfest early on, with the teams combining for 11 runs in the first two innings. Masuk held a 6-5 lead heading to the third. Neither team could score after the fifth.
“Both teams settled in there and they got the outs when they needed to, and no one got the big hit,” said Masuk coach Ralph Franco, noting that both lineups had chances to win the game.
Newtown left the bases loaded in the top of the tenth inning and Masuk left the bags full in the bottom of the tenth when Newtown third baseman Todd Petersen robbed Enzo Merlonghi of a walk-off hit with a diving stop just inside the line. Peterson used full extension to snare the hard grounder, got to his feet and stepped on third to keep the marathon going.
Newtown trailed 4-1 after one inning and answered with a four-spot of its own in the top of the second on a three-run double by Harry Eppers to tie the score and an RBI single by Ben Harrison, one of Harrison’s four hits, which followed a Jason Hebner single.
Masuk reclaimed the lead with a pair in the bottom of the inning, aided by a pair of Nighthawk errors.
It remained 6-5 Masuk until the fourth. Newtown scored single runs in the fourth and fifth to take a 7-6 lead. The Panthers got even in the bottom of the fifth.
Two Masuk relievers and two Nighthawk relievers slammed the door on the offense. Newtown was led by Kyle Roche, who went three and a third innings, allowing two hits, one run, and striking out three batters; and Dylan Champagne, who tossed six scoreless frames. Champagne allowed just three hits, walked two, and struck out seven. In addition to Peterson’s game-saving play, Newtown got sharp defense from catcher Ben Harrison, who dove to catch a foul ball for the first out of that wild tenth inning.
“Great battle, pitching,” Newtown Coach Ian Thoesen said. “Both teams are fighting for the higher seed. It’s baseball — you can’t predict it.”
Masuk went into the Notre Dame game with a record of 13-5 (8-3 in the SWC) and Newtown stood at 11-8 and 7-5.
“There’s a bunch of teams that are all grouped together that can beat one another at any given time,” Franco said.
Ten teams have between six and ten in conference victories, and the seedings were to be sorted out at the conclusion of the regular campaign, but Thoesen was confident that, because of tiebreaker advantages, his team would be in the playoff mix.
In the walkoff win over New Fairfield, the Hawks clinched the win in the bottom of the eighth inning on a wild pitch. NHS fell behind 2-0 after two innings and tied the game with a pair of runs in the fourth.
Eppers singled and drove in two runs, Rob Murray had two hits, including a double, and Jack Miller also doubled. Miller, Austin Kasbarian, and Dylan Champagne all had a single, walk, and run scored. Hebner went all eight innings, allowing four hits, walking three, and striking out ten batters.
Newtown was coming off a 2-1 loss to Bethel on May 12, and a 4-0 defeat to Stratford on May 10. The Bethel game was scoreless until the sixth inning when Miller drove in Hebner with a sacrifice fly. Bethel answered in the bottom half of the frame and won it in the seventh. Hebner had two of Newtown’s four hits. Ben Deickman and Kasbarian combined for six strong innings, allowing one run, one hit, striking out five, and walking nine.
Thoesen noted that strong starting pitching has been key to Newtown’s success.
“We’re battling, we’re playing well. I’m very happy with what I’m seeing,” Thoesen said.