Northwestern's ride comes to frustrating end in Class M title game
MIDDLETOWN - It was one heck of a ride but ultimately the Northwestern Regional baseball team came up just a bit short.
The Highlanders ended a storybook season on Saturday afternoon with a 2-1 loss to St. Joseph in the Class M state title game at Palmer field. Top-seeded Northwestern ends its season as the Berkshire League champs and with a record of 23-2.
Northwestern was in its first state final since losing the 1973 Class S state title game to Shepaug. The Highlanders had some chances and got a stellar complete game pitching performance from Zach August but finally came up on the wrong side of a one-run playoff game.
"The season has been unbelievable and the kids have been outstanding," Northwestern coach Tom Germano said. "St. Joseph has a great program and it great game."
The unbelievable season had a pretty unbelievable playoff run as the Highlanders survived No. 33 Plainville, 7-6, in 10 innings in the first round and then needed nine innings to knock off No. 16 Stonington, 6-5, in the second round. Northwestern won its third-straight one-run tournament game in the quarterfinals, outlasting No. 8 Northwest Catholic, 4-3. A hardfought win over Holy Cross in the semfinals sent Northwestern back to the state finals for the first time in 40 years.
"It would have been nicer if we could have won but it is what it is," August said. "We played hard and had a great season. I couldn't be any prouder of the
August was able to keep the Cadets off balance most of the afternoon, mixing up offspeed and breaking stuff with an occasional fastball. He went all nine innings and at the end of the day would have liked to have one pitch back, a fastball that St. Joseph shortstop Matt Batten got into and hit for a one-hop RBI double off the wall in left field that gave the Cadets a 2-1 lead.
"It was just a bad pitch and he made a good swing on it," August said. "It was a first-pitch fastball to their leadoff hitter and I left it out there a little bit and he hit it."
"Should it come down to one pitch, no, but it often does in these kind of games," Germano said. "But Zach pitched a great game, we just came up a hit short in the end."
Batten gave the Cadets the lead but he didn't take all the life out of the Highlanders and it looked like the gang in red had one more magical one-run win in them in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, T.J. Kent worked a tough walk and Connor Guiheen followed with a nice piece of hitting and served up a single to left. With two-on and needing one more hit to at least tie the game, it seemed like the Highlanders had things just the way they wanted them.
"No one got down, even after they took the lead everyone was into it and thought we were still going to do it," Guiheen said. "We battled but we just came up a hit short."
Guiheen's single brought up Bryce Ramsay, who had singled in the fifth. It looked like Ramsay was going to keep the inning alive but his ground ball up the middle was fielded by a diving Mark Hirshback, who forced Guiheen at second to end the game and give No. 11 St. Joe's its first state title since 1985.
It was a bitter end for Northwestern and a title would have been a perfect way to cap a standout season but this team won't be defined by a tough loss in the season's final game, but rather the toughness and determination it showed all season long.
"We had a lot of veteran guys and the leadership paid off," Germano said. "The leadership and experience we had was great. We had two four-year starters, two three-year starters and we just jelled and it all came together. We had great chemistry on this team and the kids had a great season."