Baseball: Foran Lions win first state title

Coach Garrett Walker’s Lions defeated North Haven, 8-2, to win their first state title. — David G. Whitham photos

At approximately 8:56 on Saturday night, the Foran High baseball team turned improbability into reality as the Lions steamrolled their way to an 8-2 CIAC Class L state tournament win over North Haven at Middletown’s Palmer Field.

Coach Garrett Walker’s No. 32 seeded Lions reeled off their fifth and final win in the tourney to make their first appearance in a final in 40 years a positive one.

J.T. Lanese is swarmed at home plate following his two-run home run in the first inning.

“These kids simply put their minds to it,” said Walker, who took over the program in 2013 following the death of his father Ken the year before. “We got determined at the right time and now we’re the 2017 Class L state champions.”

Foran, which came into the title game averaging 8.5 runs a game, wasted little time.

After John Lickteig singled, the first of his four hits, the team’s No. 3 hitter, J.T. Lanese, drove a low fastball from North Haven starter Luca Lawrence deep over the fence in right.

“The pitch was low, right where I like it,” said Lanese, one of 10 seniors on the team. “We came into the postseason loose. Heck, we were the thirty two seed. Nobody imagined that we would go that far, never mind reaching the title game.

Mike Leson drove in three runs, two with a home run in the sixth inning.

Kevin Lanese followed his brother’s  blast with a single.

Three batters later, he scored on Mike Leson’s single.

After Nick Hartley blanked North Haven the next two innings, Foran improved its lead to 5-0 with a pair of runs on a Lickteig single in the fourth.

Leson’s 365-foot home run to right center in the sixth broke the game open, giving Foran a 7-2 lead at the time.

Down 5-0, the No. 7 seed Indians scored two runs in the fourth. Designated hitter Steve Erbe drove in Brendan Clark with a triple to deep center, before Kevin Lucey’s infield single to the right side got Erbe home.

After an infield single by Vin Anastasio and a walk to Chris Stevens loaded the bases, Chris Goglia came on in relief.

John Lickteig led the attack with a four-hit performance.

Facing a bases-loaded, two-out situation, Goglia struck out Chris Somma swinging to end the inning.

Goglia went the final four innings, faced 12 batters and notched five strikeouts for the win.

In all, the Lions rapped out 14 hits, with Lickteig getting four and Mark Wootton, J.T. Lanese and Leson adding two each.

Walker spoke about his father afterward.

“Dad would’ve been completely and utterly proud of these boys,” he said. “And, hopefully, he would’ve been proud of me. He loved baseball, loved Foran and loved kids. I wish so much that he could’ve been here to see this.”

Senior captain Brett Huber also felt the emotion of the moment.

“We had two Angels looking down at us all year long,” Huber said. “One was Garrett’s father and the other was Danni (former Foran softball standout Danni Kemp who lost her battle with brain cancer in March).

“We couldn’t let either one of them down. We wanted to win this for them, and we did. It’s an awesome feeling.”

Veteran North Haven coach Bob DeMayo was seeking his sixth state title in this, his 59th year at the school.

DeMayo closed out the season with 884 victories. He’s the all-time winner in state history.

“We’re not a big-scoring team (the Indians averaged only three runs in four tournament victories), so I knew when we fell behind (3-0) in the first inning that we had a long ways to come back,” he said.

“I think we just ran out of pitching and ran into a team which was really, really hot. It’s a bad combination.”

North Haven closed out its year with a 18-8 record.

After starting out at 1-11, the Lions won 11 of their final 13 games.

Finishing at 7-13, Foran won the lottery pick over New London for the last seed before knocking off  top seeded East Lyme 8-4, before rolling over, in order, Berlin 7-2, Guilford 10-8 and Watertown 10-5.

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