Pictured: Between this season and last, coach Mark Brookes’ H-K Cougars have won 44 games.

By Paul Augeri
middlesexcountysports@gmail.com

MIDDLETOWN — Haddam-Killingworth’s bid to play for a second straight Class S baseball championship ended in quieting fashion Tuesday.

After producing 28 runs in three tournament wins heading into Tuesday’s semifinal against Oxford, the Cougars managed just three hits and left six runners in scoring position in a 5-4 loss to the Wolverines at Palmer Field.

No. 15 seed Oxford scored four runs on five consecutive two-out hits in the fifth inning to erase a 2-0 deficit. After H-K scored twice in its half of the fifth to tie it, the Wolverines went ahead for good in the sixth on Quentin Glass’ two-out RBI single off Cougars reliever Ryan Erskine.

H-K, the third seed, finished 21-6. The Cougars won 23 games in 2023 and the first championship of Mark Brookes’ 44-year tenure as head coach on this same field.

“They left their mark on the program,” said Brookes, referring to his senior core of starters Erskine, Blake Kamoen and Luke Mauri. “Twenty-one wins in a season is pretty good.”

Glass, a left-handed hitter, said he’s put in time to hit pitches to the left side of the field.

“I was sitting middle and seeing if a ball was outside,” he said. “I went off it and it paid off with the winning run.”

Oxford had one big inning to get back in the game and scored in the sixth to end H-K’s run toward a second straight Class S title game appearance.

The Cougars rocked East Catholic (11-0), Notre Dame of Fairfield (8-2) and St. Paul (9-3) by large margins in the first three rounds, yet they had only an infield hit off Oxford starter Nick Cerreto to speak of through three innings.

H-K got on the board in the fourth. Todd Butler reached on an error at first base and advanced twice on Cerreto wild pitches. Matt Shea’s double to the right-field corner scored Butler from third for the lead. Shea advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on the fourth uncorking of the inning by Cerreto.

After walking Erskine and Chase Bruno, Cerreto wiggled out of his own mess, striking out Liam Christopher and Kamoen to leave Bruno and Erskine stranded at second and third.

Shea, who sailed through the first three innings before surrendering Oxford’s first hit of the game in the fourth, took a shutout into the fifth and got a ground ball and strikeout for the first two outs.

That’s when Oxford changed the complexion of the game.

Consecutive singles to center by bottom-of-the-order batters Glass and Cerreto set the tone. Jake Matusovich flared another hit to shallow center, scoring Glass from second. Tyler Bergoderi dropped a fourth straight hit off Shea into right-center to tie the game at 2, and Donlon smoked a line drive toward the alley in left-center for a two-run triple.

H-K tied it at 4 in its half of the inning. Joey Salafia scored on the back end of a double steal. Shea’s foul pop-up halfway near the line in right was snared by a diving Luke DiNatale, with Butler scoring easily from third.

Donlon relieved Cerreto in the sixth and seized control after Bruno’s leadoff single to right and a subsequent throwing error put him at second. Christopher struck out for the first out. Kamoen’s groundout to short advanced Bruno, but Donlon struck out Salafia to end the threat.

“We let them off the hook,” Brookes said. “We played well in the three tournaments games against the three Catholic schools and I was really happy with that. We hit the ball very well. I was kind of anticipating us doing that again.”

Oxford had the opportunity to break the game open in the top of the seventh but left runners at second and third.

Donlon struck out Max Selmer with a runner on second to clinch Oxford’s first trip to a tournament final since 2013.

“We just needed a few more hits, especially in key spots,” said Brookes, who will enter his 45th season with 764 wins, second all-time in state history. “And we’d been doing that. Today it didn’t happen.”

Brookes’ credited Oxford’s pitching with holding the Cougars’ offense in check.

“I think Oxford’s pitching was a little bit better than we anticipated maybe,” he said. “You can’t take anything away from them. I thought (Cerreto) was just erratic enough so that you didn’t know when he was coming inside. That works for (a team) a lot of times. I thought he threw a lot of pitches, and the kid who came in (Donlon) was pretty good, too.”

Mouri will go on to play at Keene State, Erskine at UConn Avery Point and Kamoen at Wheaton College.

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