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The Westbrook baseball squad had so much going for it this season, and despite falling 3-2 in extra innings to second-seeded Derby in the Class S semifinal round on June 5, the Knights had little reason to hang their heads as the team exceeded all expectations and put up a strong fight against a difficult Red Raiders' squad.
Traveling to Municipal Stadium in Waterbury, Westbrook (the 11th seed) came in confident and full of life, knowing it had nothing to lose against a higher-seeded team in its quest to reach the final.
"In the end, we just came up a little short," said Coach Derek Hanssen. "This is a very special team, and I think that with their performance today and throughout the tournament, they were able to earn some well-deserved respect."
The respect started when the Knights defeated Putnam, Housatonic Regional, and Terryville on their way to the semifinal, and against Derby, they pushed the favored team to nine innings before succumbing and watching the opposing team celebrate its trip to the big stage.
Jake Comment pitched a solid eight innings, striking out nine batters on five hits and allowing two earned runs, while Tyler Shamas came in for an inning of relief. On offense, Sam Grigo went 2-for-4 with two doubles, Shamas went 2-for-3 with two doubles and an RBI, Torin Wood went 2-for-4, Jake Collins went 1-for-2, and JJ Celentano went 1-for-3.
Westbrook jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first, but couldn't hold Derby at bay after making an error in the bottom of the inning. Derby had a 2-1 lead after that inning and the score would remain there until late in the game as a pitcher's duel ensued between Comment and Derby's Sal Frosceno and Ray Kreiger. Derby made a number of pitching changes between lefty Frosceno and righty Kreiger throughout the game, keeping the Knights slightly off-balance.
"We had chances, but weren't able to push any runs across," said Hanssen. "Jake also pitched great-he allowed runners in every inning, but was able to work out of jams again and again."
With the help of some excellent defense, Comment held the score at 2-1 until the top of the fifth when he walked and then scored on a single by Shamas. The score stayed knotted until the bottom of the ninth when Derby-after a leadoff double by Zach Volo-was able to push across the winning run on an error on an attempted sacrifice bunt.
"The defense played great most of the day and helped keep the score close," said Hanssen. "Derby's combination of small ball on offense and pitching changes throughout the game kept them in it, as well. They did a great job of coaching and playing the game-they are a very good team and very well-coached. We had a number of chances, including having the bases loaded late, but couldn't come up with the big hit. Our lack of depth really showed. The two big injuries to Ben Doran and Tyler Lefebvre really impacted the team. Our lineup was just too short to come up with the big hit today."