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Woodland dunks one in to beat Waterford baseball in the ninth

Jun. 1—BEACON FALLS — The season's final game — the loss in extra innings — rarely fails to haunt with all the wouldas, couldas and shouldas such finality brings. Oh, and Waterford High had plenty to contemplate on its 90-minute ride home Saturday from Beacon Falls, a hamlet on the Route 8 corridor between Seymour and Naugatuck.

The Lancers, the state Class M baseball tournament's No. 7 seed, did more than scare No. 2 (and one loss all season) Woodland Regional on its home field. Waterford had a 2-0 lead into the sixth, perhaps beginning to form the first visions of a potential state championship No. 12.

But this cruel game maintained its form. The first hitter Waterford starter Matt Shampine walked all day led a three-run rally that gave the Hawks the lead, after which sophomore Jack Schwenger's RBI single in the bottom of the ninth produced a 4-3 win.

On the winning run: Schwenger's single dunked into right field as baserunner Max Martin turned third. Sophomore right fielder Zaydin Martinez threw a strike to the plate, but Martin was deemed to have slid under catcher Max Petrini's tag.

Ballgame.

Season.

"A couple of walks hurt us," Waterford coach Art Peluso said. "We had second and third early and didn't get anything."

But where Peluso will second-guess himself well into the offseason hearkened to Woodland's sixth-inning rally. With Bryant University-bound Michael Belcher at the plate and two outs, Woodland coach Steve Bainer opted to double steal. It was successful, moving runners to second and third, but left first base open.

"We thought about walking him," Peluso said. "But that would load the bases and we didn't want ball four to play a role. We wanted to make them earn it. And they did."

Belcher, hitting north of .400 this year, lined a two-run double to right that gave Woodland a 3-2 lead.

Waterford rallied to tie it in the seventh after singles from Zack Ruest and Martinez preceded Belcher's error in right. With the bases loaded, Alex Picardi hit into a fielder's choice, scoring pinch runner Gavin Polcaro. But as was the case earlier in the game, one run was all the Lancers mustered.

Tito Kiefer's two-out, RBI single in the first gave Waterford a 1-0 lead before Martinez's sacrifice fly made it 2-0 in the fifth. Later in the inning the Lancers (15-9) loaded the bases again but failed to score.

Shampine went seven innings, allowing four hits, two walks and struck out five. He sat between 84-86 on the speed gun and figures to be among the Eastern Connecticut Conference's best pitchers next season.

"He was great," Peluso said. "His ball was moving. They really couldn't square one up."

And so the Lancers, whose aspirations always include the heaviest hardware, must settle for a 2-1 state tournament and 15-win season.

"The kids played hard all year. All of them. The ones who played a lot and the ones who didn't came to practice every day and worked," Peluso said. "That's very much appreciated by the coaching staff. This is 28 years for me now doing this. We've had great kids here. That's what makes it hard when seasons like this come to an end. Wins and losses are going to happen. But seeing the guys everyday keeps you going."

m.dimauro@theday.com