Surprising East Lyme reaches Class L baseball semis

Manchester - The best stories come from nowhere at tournament time. And from nowhere, East Lyme High School is sure somewhere now. The best somewhere the Vikings could be: on the way to the state baseball semifinals.

East Lyme, the No. 17 seed and virtual afterthought, kept the rainbow ride alive Friday in eight innings with a 2-1 win on the turfed lawn of No. 8 Cheney Tech in the Class L tournament quarterfinals. The Vikings (15-10) play in their first semifinal since 2010 on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. at Palmer Field in Middletown against No. 4 Notre Dame of West Haven. Notre Dame advanced with a 3-0 win over Bunnell.

East Lyme-Notre Dame will precede the other Class L semifinal at 7 between No. 2 Law and No. 14 Masuk.

"From the beginning," catcher Austin Toback said, "we knew we could do this."

Toback, 11-for-17 this postseason, scored the winning win in the eighth after lining a one-out double to left off losing pitcher Merlyn Herrera.

Toback went to third on Dean Beebe's grounder and scored when Connor Elliott rifled a first-pitch single to left.

"That felt great," Elliott said. "It was awesome seeing my teammates and the fans going crazy."

C.J. Leindecker was the winning pitcher in relief of starter Will Butler, who allowed a run in six innings.

Leindecker pitched a perfect seventh and eighth.

"Once we got to states, we've been a whole different team," said Leindecker, a junior right-hander, whose slider and cutter befuddled six Cheney Tech hitters. "We've been in so many close games, we're used to playing in them. Nothing new to us."

Indeed not.

East Lyme's last six regular season games finished by scores of 2-0, 1-0, 3-2, 3-2, 3-2 and 2-0.

"Playing in the (Eastern Connecticut Conference) all season was good for us," East Lyme coach Jack Biggs said. "Those 3-2 games we lost - and some we won - are starting to come into play in some of these tournament games. When the game's on the line, we make plays."

Or they just give the ball to Leindecker.

"He's closed out every game for us," Toback said. "Even in the ECC tournament, no one's even come close to him. He goes out there almost like Mariano Rivera. It's done."

Biggs said Jack Livingston will pitch for the Vikings against Notre Dame.

"We're built like a tournament team," Elliott said. "We have three studs on the mound. Jack, Will and C.J. all could be a No. 1 starter."

m.dimauro@theday.com

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