by David Glovach
MIDDLETOWN — For 44 years, St. Paul Catholic had been waiting for a state baseball championship. For roughly 16, 071 days, other schools had the privilege of being able to add a year to a banner and hoist the state title plaque while the Falcons did not.
With one pitch from Connor Crean, all of the waiting ended Sunday afternoon.
With two outs and a runner on first base, Crean delivered from the stretch and stuck out Morgan’s Chad Neri to seal a 4-2 win at Palmer Field and the 2016 Class S state title for the Falcons.
It was just one of 13 strikeouts over a complete game for the senior, but it was the most important.
As the umpire called strike three, immediately gloves were tossed in the air and Crean ran over to embrace his catcher, Chadd Richardson.
“It means a hell of a lot actually,” Crean said of the win. “I’ve been playing with these guys for about four or five years now… Now to be winning this as a team is one of the best feelings in the world.”
The team pileup ensued and the celebration the program and the school had been waiting so long for began.
“When the last out was made it made everything we worked for, everything we practiced, all the long practices, all the stuff coach had us practice pay off,” senior Jackson Hines said.
Just a half an inning before, St. Paul found itself knotted 2-2 with the Huskies. With the bases loaded, Mike Dombrowski stepped up to the plate and hit a shallow fly ball to left field, bringing Hines in from third, who beat a high throw home to break the tie.
For Dombrowski it was a similar situation to one he had been in during the team’s semifinal matchup and the senior knew he just had to be patient and wait for his pitch.
“I knew he was coming at with some fastballs,” Dombrowski said. “The first pitch [Cooper Thompson] went to his curve ball. It didn’t work and he went straight to the fastball. I knew he was going to come back with that. He didn’t want to fall behind 3-0, so I knew it was going to be in the wheelhouse. I was just looking to put the ball in play and get the run in.”
An overthrow by Morgan catcher Dylan Ketch on Ben Mazzone’s attempt to take third base sailed into left field, allowing the St. Paul shortstop to score an insurance run.
It was all Crean needed heading into the bottom of the seventh.
“We hit the ball and won the game,” Crean said. “It was all we needed to do.”
From the very first inning, things looked to be going the Falcons’ way. Richardson hit an RBI double over the center fielder’s head, bringing Andrew Owsianko across home plate. Zach Parent followed up two batters later with an RBI single, allowing Richardson to add a second run to St. Paul’s total.
But right away Morgan cut the Falcons lead in half. Ketch singled on a blooper to center, but was able to reach third on back-to-back errors from St. Paul. Hines overran the initial play and Dombrowski allowed the ball to get past him as well. Ketch scored on an A.J. Fritz groundout to shortstop the very next play. The Huskies would add their second run in the third inning on a Crean wild pitch.
From that point on it turned into a bit of a pitchers’ duel between Crean and Thompson with the Falcons’ pitcher getting himself out of trouble on more than one occasion. But both offenses had stalled and heading into the final inning, so St. Paul head coach Victor Rinaldi had a message for his lineup before they went to the plate.
“I told them we needed to get some runs for Connor,” Rinaldi said. “It was going to be Connor’s last inning. If it stayed tied in the seventh we were going to bring in Wes Lahey in to pitch. With the lead we were going to stay with Connor and let him go. I told them we needed some runs and that we had the top of the order and needed to get at least one [run].”
The Falcons responded by getting those two runs beginning with the sac fly from Dombrowski to back Crean and in the end it paid off. When Rinaldi was presented with the Class S championship plaque, a roar erupted from the players and the crowd.
With their state championship medals around their necks, the players and coaches posed for a team photo with the trophy that had taken them so long to win.
“It’s the best feeling,” Dombrowski said. “The best feeling. Words can’t describe it. They just can’t describe it.”