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Plainfield - If you're into symbolism, this worked well: Long after it ended Monday and the many fans who lined the bowl setting with their lawn chairs had gone home, the baseball players of Plainfield High School finally doused coach Jason Chaviaras with the water bucket treatment. Got him good, too.
Keyword: finally. Finally, Plainfield, a school that has struggled succeeding in marquee sports within the Eastern Connecticut Conference, rejoined the fraternity, winning the ECC Medium Division title with a 4-3 victory over Montville. Junior Steve Jankowski drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth, capping a tense three hours and drama befitting a title game.
The Panthers (18-2) will be the top seed in the ECC tournament beginning Wednesday at Dodd Stadium. And it wasn't lost on the players or coaches that the path to the top seed and division title featured three-time state champion Montville, nine-time state champion Waterford and five-time state champion New London.
"It's huge," Jankowski said. "It's probably the most people in my three years playing here I've ever seen. Everyone's proud of Plainfield baseball. We moved from the Small Division to the Medium and a lot of people doubted us. It's huge for the program. It's very hard to win in this league."
It was very hard to win this game, too. The Panthers entered the bottom of the seventh down a run and tied the game when an error allowed Jordan Federer to score with nobody out. Montville coach Phil Orbe summoned reliever Stan Kesilewski, giving him the task of facing the middle of the order with runners on second and third and nobody out.
Kesilewski induced a harmless check swing ground ball before striking out the next two hitters, one of whom was Jankowski, to keep the Indians alive.
Montville starter Chad Mooney fought his way into the seventh, despite a balky back.
"A lot of adverse situations popped up today, but the kids hung in there," Orbe said. "That's what we expect them to do. This is not like a major headline that we battled and that they're pretty tough kids. … A game of this nature in this kind of atmosphere can only help us."
Montville led 2-0 early on RBI singles from Kesilewski and Buddy Dewaine. Plainfield tied the game in the third on RBI singles from Federer and Garet Griffin. Jeremy Sagun's RBI double in the fourth gave Montville the lead into the seventh.
"They used their top two pitchers. We could have certainly brought in other guys to pitch," Orbe said. "But we have a very important game (today). We're trying to get to 17 wins and that probably puts us at a home quarterfinal game if we get that far."
Orbe was referring to today's regular-season finale against Lyman Memorial, where a win could enhance their seeding for the upcoming Class M state tournament. But Orbe wasn't finished.
"There's no way - and you can put this one in 18 inch letters - we're winning an ECC tournament game," he said. "We're going all hands on deck (today) and we'll probably just throw anybody Wednesday (in the tournament quarterfinals). The timing of the ECC tournament is not the best right now with us playing two games in a row right before it. We're not going to get into Thursday (the semifinals) and Friday (the championship game)."
Montville is seeded second for the ECC tournament and will play No. 7 Windham, the Small Division champion, in Wednesday's quarterfinals at 1:45 p.m.