Fifth-seeded Vikings repeat as ECC tournament baseball champs
Groton — Nolan Connolly boarded the team bus Friday afternoon with the rest of his teammates from East Lyme High School, perhaps comfortable enough to even take a few bets on the one thing he wouldn’t be doing in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship game: pitch.
“I was shocked,” he said, of coach Jack Biggs summoning him in relief of Luke Leonard to begin the fourth inning.
And there was Connolly, still around in the seventh, escaping a second and third, one-out jam, preserving fifth-seeded East Lyme’s 4-3 win over No. 7 Waterford and the Vikings’ second straight ECC tournament title.
“I figured, well, it’s the ECC championship game, I might as well go out and have a day,” Connolly said.
He allowed a two-run double to Jared Burrows in the seventh that narrowed East Lyme’s lead to 4-3. But he got the game’s final two outs, including a ground ball to third that erased pinch runner Matt Sanford, arguably the biggest out of the game.
The Vikings (16-8), who lost five straight at one point this season, are the ECC’s hottest team heading to the state tournament.
“Thank God we’re playing our best now,” Connolly said.
East Lyme trailed in the fourth before Tommy Mason’s RBI single tied the game. The Vikings took the lead for good in the fifth when umpire Kevin Moreland called Waterford starter Payton Sutman for a balk with a runner at third.
“He saw it the way he saw it,” Waterford coach Art Peluso said. “It’s part of the game. I thought Payton pitched well enough to win though. We left too many guys on base earlier in the game.”
A wild pitch and Alex Fraser’s RBI single off Sutman’s leg eventually made it 4-1.
“Obviously, things didn’t go the way we thought they’d go early in the game,” Biggs said. “So we had to make some changes. Our coaches — not me — got every single move right.”
And now both teams head to the state tournament quite hopeful.
“We’re playing much better,” Peluso said. “I like this tournament. But I truly believe we have two weeks left of baseball in us.”
Biggs: “Winning this tournament is tough to do. We’ve been able to turn this thing around after that five-game losing streak. We just told the kids during the hard times they had to keep grinding and we’d be OK, as long as they didn’t turn negative on each other.”