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Even though it traveled the scenic route to get there, the North Haven baseball team still earned its chance to dance with destiny in the Class L State Tournament. That's because the Indians posted a 1-0 victory at Shelton in their regular season finale on May 27 to earn that crucial eighth win needed to reach the state bracket.
Had North Haven lost to the Gaels, it would have been on the outside looking in, an extremely rare occurrence in program history. Instead, the Indians (8-12) began play in states as the 29th seed with a first round game against a familiar foe in No. 4 seed Notre Dame-West Haven earlier this week. If NH won that game and its subsequent second round contest on June 3, it would play in the quarterfinals on Saturday, June 6. The semifinals are on Tuesday, June 10 with the championship contest at Palmer Field in Middletown on Saturday, June 14. North Haven reached the semis last season, but had to win four of its final seven games and two of the last three to make the state tourney this time.
"I think winning this eighth game and getting into the tournament is a big accomplishment for this team based on the amount of adversity we have gone through," said Coach Muchie Dagliere.
In the Shelton win, senior right-hander Jeff Cunningham tossed his second gem of the home stretch by going the distance on a three-hitter. Cunningham has previously hurled a shutout in another critical victory be stifling Notre Dame in a 2-0 triumph on May 19. This time, Cunningham received all the support he'd need when senior Trent Dillon singled home junior Mike Kurk in the top of the fourth inning for the game's lone run. Although his Indians stranded 11 total base runners and eight in the first three innings, Cunningham and his defense made sure that one run was enough for North Haven to pick up the victory.
"We did a poor job with runners on base, but we did a great job on the mound and in the field," said Dagliere. "Jeff's last two performances have been tremendous and a major reason why we got wins No. 7 and 8. He has combined to pitch 14 innings, allowing zero runs and only giving up six hits. You can't ask more than that."
Cunningham said he wasn't quite as sharp against Shelton as he was versus the Green Knights, yet still posted nothing but zeroes on the scoreboard and credited his fielders for their flawless performance as North Haven committed no errors.
"I located my fastball well against Shelton, but didn't have my curve going on. I only had one strikeout in the game and so my defense bailed me out a few times. They made no errors and that's saying something," Cunningham said. "We've been without Coach DeMayo this year and also have a young, inexperienced team and so it means a lot to all of us that we played together to get that eighth win so we can represent North Haven in the state tournament. That's what it's all about."
Previously, North Haven took a 6-2 loss at Xavier on May 23. The Indians went up 2-0 in the third inning when captain Josh Lopez lashed an RBI single and fellow senior Pete Katynski scored on a passed ball. North Haven then had the bases loaded with nobody out in the fourth inning, yet could not score a run. Xavier then took advantage of some Indians' errors to score two runs in each of the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings to claim the win.