MIDDLETOWN – Several times a year we are both reminded in some cases or introduced in most cases to how special state championships are. How cool it is to scale and stand on the top of the mountain with a lifetime experience in hand.
On a perfect baseball day at Palmer Field Nonnewaug was introduced to the magic of it all with Saturday’s 10-8 victory over Wolcott resulting in the Class M state title. This was all new to the Chiefs, only their second appearance in a state final and no championship plaque in the showcase.
Until now. The day does not yellow with time. There is a delightful frozen quality to it all that will be thawed repeatedly in future days and years. The banner will go on the wall in the gym and 10 years, 20 years, 40 years from now players, coaches and fans will say, “Yeah we won a state title,” and it will all be played out again in proud conversation and newspaper and internet browsing.
One aspect the will become evident is that state titles never ever grow old. We all do, the accomplishment, however? That stays young and fresh and the pride holds a permanent place in the psyche.
It didn’t come easy for the Chiefs; state titles shouldn’t be and rarely are. Wolcott jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first two innings that included a three-run bomb from A.J. Martinez, driving starter Owen Palmer from the mound. The vibe was that a long day was in the offing for the Chiefs. That first title was going to come some day but not this one.
There was also the idea that this Eagles team might have that team of destiny characteristic in its DNA. Every win in the tournament had been by one run. They were the one-run wonders and always found a way. It wasn’t in their playbook to lose.
But for all the bullets dodged by coach Craig Prasauckas’ club during an admirable run, they couldn’t dodge or recover from the bomb dropped on them in the third inning. Powerful, explosive, game deciding.
After a quiet first two innings, the Chiefs unloaded. A whopping 11 batters came to the plate, eight of them crossed home plate for an 8-5 lead. There were seven hits in the inning highlighted by Dylan Chung’s two-run single and RBI singles from Ryan Palmer and Matt Palumbo. Another run scored on a wild pitch and one on a passed ball.
“I just told our kids that this was the last game of the year and we’ll fight to the end or regret it the rest of our lives,” Nonnewaug coach Jimmy Alberto said. “I have always been confident in our bats.”
Confidence well-placed. It wasn’t over but it was over. The Chiefs would add two more runs in the firth for a 10-5 lead. But Wolcott wasn’t about to stand down. The Eagles put a three-spot on the board in the top of the sixth with Nick Sconziano coming through with a two-out, two-run single to put the Nonnewaug sweat glands into overdrive.
When Nonnewaug reliever Dylan Chung hit the first batter to start the seventh inning after hitting two the previous frame, Alberto had to go with head over heart. Chung went the distance in the Chiefs 7-5 semifinal win over St. Joe’s – Trumbull. He had weathered trouble in the late going and Alberto had stuck with him. You got to go with the seniors he said at the time.
It paid off and Chung gutted out the win. Alberto had a difficult choice to make.
“When I went to get him he said, ‘Please, please don’t take me out I can do this,’” Alberto said. “The whole team said,`coach what are you doing.’”
Alberto wanted to give in to the pleas. Yet he knew Chung had given what he could. He knew it was time. His He called on another senior lefthander Nick Rose who stirred the pot a bit when Joe Ferrucci singled to put the tying run on second base. Then Rose put the lid on the pot, the season and insured history.
Josh Dunne fouled out to the catcher and Nate Northrop struck out. The final out had a final bit of big-time drama. Logan Szep’s chopper back up the middle nicked the top of a leaping Rose’s glove and found its way to second baseman Owen Palmer who charged in fielded the ball and managed to tag out Ferrucci as he stormed towards second base.
State championship Nonnewaug.
Now and forever the Chiefs will revel in the chaotic and euphoric bolt to the pitcher’s mound and the ensuing hugs, and smiles and yeah, a few tears. They will remember the television stations there to record it and interview the champions. The huge throng of fans behind the dugout will not escape the memory banks.
The presentation of the medals and a joy equal in a different way to their own coming from parents who have watched the journey and been through all the ups and downs will always be recognized and appreciated.
This is one of those groups that has been together forever. So this wasn’t just a tournament or season journey, this started way back when driving licenses were just a dream. Seven seniors – Ben Stewart, Bret Davino, Matt Palumbo, Nick Rose, Sam Scott, Ryan Ponte and Chung led a veteran lineup to glory.
“Our group of kids is super athletic,” Chung. “Our teacher in fifth grade gym said he had a great feeling about us. We worked so hard. To get this with all our friends is a great feeling.”
They will all remember this was the first one for the school. Alberto knows all about that. He went through the same experience with Thomaston in 2008.
“To win the first one is unbelievable,” Alberto said between congratulations from well-wishers. “This program hasn’t been here that often and I wanted these kids to experience this. They deserved it. “
The team will also appreciate how Alberto kept the ship floating, taking over midway through the season when coach Frank Melillo left due to job commitments. Alberto’s steady hand was honed by more than 40 years of coaching. He never blinked and his neither did his team.
The Nonnewaug faithful made sure the Chiefs knew what they accomplished. The lined the streets and greeted the champs with fire trucks and a welcoming committee on their arrival home. There is no parade like a state championship parade.
Nonnewaug assistant coach Kyle Brennan maybe captured how special it all is better than anyone. Brennan is a teacher at Nonnewaug but less than five years ago he was a sports reporter for the Waterbury Republican. State titles are not new to him but this one was different. And treasured.
“I’ve watched a lot of teams experience this over the years, I’ve probably covered about two dozen state title games,” Brennan said. “It’s different watching kids you’re working with, to know what it feels like. It’s a lot better than the press box. To fully enjoy this moment is something no one will ever forget.”
And regarding the post-game parade from his Facebook post – “I’ve been on the giving end of these parades a lot in Woodland but I’ll take the view from the inside of the bus instead.”
State Championships – so special, so cool. Ask Nonnewaug. Then ask them 20-30 years from now. The answer will be the same. This type of special doesn’t age. Nonnewaug, welcome to the top of the mountain.