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Falcons' barnstorming tour comes to a close with loss in Class L semis

Hartford — The near 700-mile tournament journey ended Wednesday night, a two-week odyssey the kids called “life-changing,” telling all who would listen they’ll remember the trip to the state semifinals forever.

But there’s going to be a few shouldas, couldas and wouldas for a few days, laments over the Big Almost.

As in: the Fitch High School baseball team, despite its perch as the No. 30 seed in the Class L state tournament, had its chances at Dunkin’ Donuts Park. But No. 7 North Haven scored a run in the bottom of the sixth and escaped with a 1-0 win.

Fitch had the bases loaded and nobody out in the third and left a runner at third two other times, unable to support pitcher Ian Cekala, the kid they call The Big Smooth, who lived up to his nickname.

“Ian pitched a beautiful game against Waterford in the (conference tournament quarterfinals), but to pitch like this in this environment in these circumstances, he just pitched a masterful game,” Fitch coach Jeff Joyce said. “He’s as tough of a kid as I’ve ever coached.”

Cekala allowed a two-out RBI double to Brendan Clark in the sixth on a 3-1 pitch. North Haven had but one baserunner reach as far as second base in the first five innings.

“I had a pretty good feeling this would be a pitchers’ duel and that one run would determine this game,” Joyce said. “I think if we could have gotten a run, the way Ian was pitching, he would have preserved it.”

Clark was the game’s winning pitcher with five innings of no-hit relief. He entered in the third inning with the bases loaded and nobody out in relief of starter Luca Lawrence. After two strikeouts, he barely escaped the jam after Connor McCrea’s line drive to the gap in right-center, run down by Peyton Farina.

Clark allowed three base runners in five innings, as North Haven advanced to meet No. 32 Foran in the championship game Saturday at Palmer Field in Middletown.

“This was fantastic,” Cekala said of the state tournament run. “To be with these guys for another two weeks was life-changing. I’ll remember these two weeks for the rest of my life.”

Joyce: “The last two weeks here have been magical. To see the kids barnstorming all over Connecticut and be the underdog, the 30 seed, all the reasons not to win and to keep winning. … I’ll never forget it as long as I live.”

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