Sunday, June 12, 2016

St. Paul baseball ends its 44-year state championship drought

St. Paul baseball's postgame huddle included a special guest Sunday -- the Class S state championship plaque.
Forty-four years is a long time to wait for anything.
That's how long it's been since the St. Paul baseball program celebrated a state championship. The year was 1972, and the Falcons were wrapping up their second straight title. 
St. Paul had to wait another 44 years, but state title No. 3 found its place in the Maltby Street school after a 4-2 victory over Morgan in Sunday afternoon's Class S championship final at Palmer Field in Middletown.
Senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski drove home the winning run in the top of the seventh inning.
Senior co-captain Mike Dombrowski drove in senior co-captain Jackson Hines with a sacrifice fly in the top of the seventh inning to break a 2-2 tie. Senior Ben Mazzone scored on a throwing error on the same play, then senior ace pitcher Connor Crean sealed the victory.
Crean, a hard-throwing right-hander, had trouble finding the plate again, much like he did in the semifinals. Just like the semifinals, however, Crean worked his way out of trouble time and again. Crean wound up with eight walks, but he also struck out 13, including the last three batters in the game after his final walk. The Falcons also made four errors, but the defense and Crean combined to help each other out when it mattered most.
Senior Connor Crean struck out 13, including the final three batters he faced.
"I just knew the team had my back, no matter what," Crean said.
St. Paul struck for two runs in the top of the first inning, all with two outs. Junior Andrew Owsianko reached on an infield single, then senior Chadd Richardson delivered a wind-aided RBI double for a 1-0 lead. Dombrowski walked, then St. Paul executed a double steal. An infield single by junior Zach Parent put the Falcons ahead 2-0.
Morgan turned a leadoff double and an error into a run on a RBI groundout in the bottom of the first. The Huskies had runners on base in every inning, but were only able to push one more run across. That run came in the third inning on a passed ball.
St. Paul left two on in the fourth and one more in the sixth, and the game went to the seventh tied 2-2.
Hines led off the seventh with a single. He later scored what turned out to be the winning run.
Mazzone's sacrifice attempt turned into a bunt base hit. He later scored an insurance run to make the score 4-2.

The seniors led the Falcons to the first state final since 1976, and they were the catalyst for the championship-winning rally. Hines led off and dropped a single into left field. Mazzone looked to put down a sacrifice bunt, but it wound up going past the pitcher for a base hit. A swinging bunt from the junior Owsianko moved the runners up to second and third with one out, then Morgan elected to intentionally walk Richardson.
That brought up the senior Dombrowski, who was able to loft a fly ball into the left center field gap. Hines scored easily, and when a throw to third base went astray, Mazzone brought home an insurance run.
The Morgan seventh began with a walk, but Crean settled in and struck out the side. When the final strike was recorded, Crean jumped into the arms of his catcher Richardson, and the battery were mobbed by their teammates in a pile-up in front of home plate.
It was a forty-four year wait, but this group of St. Paul baseball players made it worth it. Seniors Dombrowski, Wayne Sharp, Crean, Jarod Deegan, Mazzone, Hines, Joe Ricciuti and Richardson finished their Falcon careers with the ultimate prize.

For photos and videos from the game, go to my Facebook page.

Look for much more on the St. Paul state championship on this blog in the coming days.    

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