Warde, Southington advance to Class LL baseball championship game

Photo of Scott Ericson

WATERBURY — Warde pitcher Griffin Polley went down early in the season with an injury and coach Brett Conner kept telling him that they would need him back on the mound for the biggest games in the postseason.

After giving up one run in the top of the first, Polley settled in, shutting No. 10 seeded Trumbull out for the next four innings before giving way to closer Paddy Galvin who shut the door on the Mustangs 4-1 CIAC Class LL semifinal win at Municipal Stadium.

“He just had to get into the competitive mindset tonight,” Conner said. “When Polley went down at the beginning of the year, we asked him to work his way back because we needed him for this type of moment. He gave this program everything he had for this every moment here. I am really proud of him and the guys are really proud of him.”

No. 3 Warde advances to the Class LL title game for the first time since 2016 and will face No. 4 Southington in Saturday’s noon championship at Palmer Field in Middletown.

Warde has not won since Andrew Warde won Class LL in 1981. However, a unified Fairfield High won Class LL in 2002. Warde last played for a state title in the 2016 Class LL championship game.

“I remember back in 2016 when we made it and sadly we lost, but we are back this year and I think we have a good chance to win it,” Polley said. “I trusted my defense after (the first inning) trusted our bats as well. They put up four runs for me. I trusted the team. This is something special. Every single person trusts the other person. It’s awesome. You hear the cheer after the game ‘love on three.’ We love everybody here.”

Trumbull struck first in the top of the first with Connor Johnston driving in a run with a double to left centerfield.

Warde answered right back in the bottom of the inning, getting two runs on a sacrifice fly to center by Zach Broderick, scoring Garrett Larsen, and a double steal with Roman DiGiacomo running home on the throw to second base.

The Mustangs struck again in the bottom of the third with two more runs on RBI singles by Broderick and Jack Andrews, making it 4-1.

SOUTHINGTON 6 DANBURY 0

With a lot of holes to fill in the lineup at the beginning of the season, some people outside the Southington baseball program felt like a down year might be coming.

The players and coaches were having no part of it, and now, the fourth-seeded Blue Knights are going back to the CIAC Class LL championship game after a convincing 6-0 win over No. 8 Danbury in the semifinals.

“This group of guys are phenomenal. We lost to Glastonbury once and we said ‘we are not losing the rest of the time, we are going to the state finals.’ And we are going to the state finals,” Southington coach Stan Switala said. “They are fired up and they think they can beat any team in the state. We are 21-3 and people said we were going to be 10-10 this year. We are going to keep playing and we are going to win the whole thing.”

Southington has appeared in 13 state championship games. However, the Blue Knights have not won a state title since 1999, last appearing in the 2019 title game.

Southington wasted no time getting going with three runs in the bottom of the first.

Sophomore Frank Boutot tripled, scoring on a suicide squeeze by Jackson Rusiecki.

With runners on first and third, the Blue Knights scored when the runner from first stole second and the throw went into centerfield, allowing the runner from third to trot home.

Southington made it 3-0 on a run-scoring single to right field by Colin Crowley.

Southington got three more in the third propelled by a 2-run single by Manny Izzo and a RBI hit by Crowley.

All the while, starting pitcher Conner Whitehead was in control, allowing just one hit in six innings of work before giving way to closer CJ Dibendedetto, who finished off the seventh inning.

“My curveball was definitely working, I was getting inside and outside of the zone and I was working those,” Whitehead said. “As the season went one we got better and better and we started bonding as a team and we started really doing well.”

The team has been playing this state tournament for Coach Charles Lembo who died the Saturday before the state tournament began after a bout with cancer at the age of 62.

Lembo coached at Southington from 2011 until getting sick during the 2021 season.

He was 178-57 at Southington, leading the Blue Knights to 10 straight state tournaments appearances and still appears listed as the head coach on the official CIAC roster for the tournament.

“We are one step closer to winning it for (Lembo),” Whitehead said. “He is watching over us, giving us some nice hops. He’s been with me pretty much everywhere. The way he coached me the past few seasons and really sticking with me and I really want to get this for him.”

sericson@stamfordadvocate.com

WARDE 4 TRUMBULL 1

TRUMBULL 100 000 0—1 5 3

WARDE 202 000 x—4 4 1

Batteries: W—Griffin Polley, Paddy Galvin (S, 6) and Roman DiGiacomo; T—Connor Johnston (L) and Scott Gell

SOUTHINGTON 6 DANBURY 0

DANBURY 000 000 0—0 1 3

SOUTHINGTON 303 000 x—6 6 2

Batteries: S—Connor Whitehead (W), CJ Dibendedetto (7) and Brady Aylward. D—Charlie Solomine (L), Aidan Hefele (3) and Roman Hausmann