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ECC Tournament: Woodstock Academy captures ECC Division I tournament championship

 

It was a quagmire that baseball coaches sometimes find themselves in.

Woodstock Academy had just tied the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I championship game and had Tanner Graham at third representing the game-winning run after Noah Sampson had doubled with two outs.

Up to the plate stepped Centaurs lead-off hitter Maxx Corradi.

The shortstop had three hits in four trips to the plate against Viking pitching on Friday.

So, East Lyme coach Jack Biggs had a choice.

Pitch to the hot-hitting Corradi or take on the player who has led Woodstock Academy all season offensively, Eric Mathewson.

Biggs chose the latter and intentionally walked Corradi to load the bases for Mathewson.

Except the senior was hardly ready.

He had been getting ready to go back on the mound and pitch in the eighth inning if needed but he was also confident that Corradi was going to finish things.

Suddenly, he was the one at the plate.

He frantically began rushing around the dugout to find his batting gear.

“There was hooting and hollering after we scored the (tying) run and then the walk and Eric was not ready to go, he was looking for his stuff,” Woodstock Academy coach Connor Elliott recalled.

Elliott called time out and walked in slowly from third base.

“All my coaches paused the game for me, came up to me, slowed the game down, told me to breathe and take the game in one second at a time. It really calmed me down,” Mathewson said.

Elliott had confidence in the senior.

“He is such a good hitter and our Most Valuable Player - personally I thought he should be the MVP of the whole league but that’s alright, there are a lot of deserving players out there – and he proved that (Friday). Not just in that last at-bat but coming in and giving up just one run ion four innings on the mound, shut the door, and gave our offense a chance to scratch back into it,” Elliott said.

The confidence was well-placed.

Mathewson stepped to the plate and took a strike from East Lyme pitcher Liam Joyce. He laced the next delivery into center field and as Graham crossed the plate, Mathewson removed his helmet and threw it into the air as he ran up the first base line.

“I’m at a loss for words. I’ve never done something like that in my baseball career and I was just filled with emotion,” Mathewson said. “Right off the bat, I knew I had hit it in the sweet spot and I knew I had hit it hard. I saw it get past the pitcher and knew it was going to get into center field and we were going to win the game.”

By the time he crossed first base, the entire team was running behind him and the Centaurs celebrated the 8-7 victory out near second base.

It took some time in coming as the Centaurs have made the ECC championship game for the past two seasons but have come home empty-handed.

“It’s amazing,” Mathewson said of the victory. “We lost in our sophomore year to Fitch, 10-0. Last year, 364 days ago on this same field, we lost to East Lyme 9-3. We had a pregame hype up and everyone was just ready to get it for Woodstock this year.”

It looked like it was going to be déjà vu all over again at the start of the contest.

East Lyme (15-8), which defeated Killingly in a semifinal earlier in the day, opened with a 2-0 first inning lead.

A.J. Montejano walked, Garrison Biggs put down a bunt single and Alex Dreyfus doubled home a run. Liam Cochrane followed with an RBI ground out for the Vikings.

The second seed added four more in the third on three singles, four walks and a couple of wild pitches and chased Woodstock Academy starter Riley O’Brien.

But the Centaurs began their comeback in the bottom of the inning.

Noah Sampson, the ninth batter, walked and was doubled to third by Corradi. Sampson came home on a ground out by Mathewson and a Keon Lamarche ground out plated Corradi.

Mathewson came on and silenced the East Lyme bats allowing just a walk and a runner reached on an error in the next three innings.

Woodstock Academy finally put its offense together in the sixth inning.

A fielder’s choice was followed by two walks and Sampson delivered a run with a sacrifice fly to left.

“We didn’t really get down on ourselves when we went down, 6-0. We kept fighting, little by little, run by run, and our captains provided the leadership. I couldn’t be more proud of this team,” Sampson said.

Corradi followed with a base hit to left to cut the lead to two and, after Mathewson reached on an error, Keon Lamarche delivered a two-run single to right to tie the game.

But a pop out ended the rally and East Lyme wasn’t about to go quietly.

Mathewson got the first two outs but a single to right field by Tanner O’Brien and a wild pitch put the Vikings in scoring position. Dylan Joyce delivered the RBI single to put the Vikings up, 7-6.

The Centaurs looked like they were going to be down to their last out after a line out and what appeared to be a ground out. But an error on the play allowed Riley O’Brien to reach. After a strikeout, Graham walked and Elliott subbed in David Bunning to pinch run for Riley O’Brien.

That brought the left-handed hitting Sampson to the plate.

He took a strike.

“I knew I just had to put it in play, hit whatever is in the zone. I went opposite field and it worked out,” Sampson said.

He sent the ball to left field and never stopped, getting to second base, pushing Graham to third and, most importantly, bringing in Bunning with the tying run.

Not bad for a senior who had not planned to play baseball until Elliott reached out to him because he needed a centerfielder.

“That was his first double of the season. I had asked him if he would have a double before the year ended because all of his hits have been singles. His first double of the season could not have happened at a better time. Tanner Graham had a phenomenal at-bat, another grinder at the plate and he did his job. I’m so proud of everyone,” Elliott said.

The rest became part of history with the Corradi intentional walk and the Mathewson heroics.

“This is one of the greatest baseball games I’ve been a part of,” Elliott said. “Unbelievable. We’ve been trying to get over the hump in the ECC tournament, this being our third time here, and beating such a quality team in East Lyme and Coach Biggs who I played for and I have so much respect for. He taught me so much of the game. Knowing the quality of this program and how hard we worked for it. Back-to-back games, Eric throwing on one day of rest, just really gutsy performances across the board. We really needed everyone.”

The Centaurs (21-2) advanced to the championship game with a 3-1 win over Fitch.

Brady Ericson held the Falcons spellbound over the first six innings as he didn’t allow a hit and struck out 10.

But he was over 100 pitches after that and yielded to Logan Coutu who had a little seventh inning adventure although he maintained the no-hitter.

Fitch got the benefit of an error and walk to start the seventh inning and two fielder’s choices produced the lone Falcons’ run. Coutu then hit two batters before getting the third out on a pop up.

“With Brady, they had no hits and it felt about right. It was a crazy no-hitter because I was sweating bullets thinking the first hit of the game might put them in the lead. We showed in the second game why we needed those kind of at-bats in the first game because we could have separated ourselves but we left 10 runners on in scoring position,” Elliott said.

Woodstock Academy went up, 2-0, in the second on a Corradi RBI single and a bases-loaded walk to Ericson.

It would add one more in the sixth on a Mathewson double.

After the championship game, Mathewson and Corradi were honored as ECC Division I All-Star infielders with Ericson getting the nod at pitcher and Lamarche at designated hitter.

Jack Sumner is the team’s ECC Scholar-Athlete with Bunning chosen as the team’s ECC Sportsmanship Award recipient.

The season is not over.

The Centaurs begin Class L state tournament play with a first-round game at home at the Bentley Athletic Complex.

The top-seeded Centaurs will host No. 32 Branford at 4 p.m.

“I think we’re ready,” Elliott said. “We’re going to take the weekend off and have a great practice on Monday and then, we’re rolling.”