Staples denies Amity’s bid for 5th straight Class LL baseball title

MIDDLETOWN >> The Drive for Five got thwarted by a shining Knight.

Amity’s bid for a fifth straight Class LL state title fell short on Saturday afternoon at Palmer Field, where Chad Knight pitched and hit Staples to a 5-1 victory in the championship game.

Knight, just a sophomore, tossed a five-hitter and helped his own cause with a two-run homer that put the Wreckers up for good in the top of the fifth.

For top-seeded Amity, there was shock and the unusual sight of tears in the postgame handshake line.

“The disappointment has nothing to do with losing,” said coach Sal Coppola. “It’s just some of these kids have won two and three championships and are just absolutely great players. It was emotional, just because I’m not gonna see them on the field anymore. That’s what it’s all about. Win or lose, we got here. Baseball is a tough game to play one-and-done.”

Amity ace Max Scheps seemed to struggle from the start, walking two and hitting a pair of batters over the first four frames.

Still, he had a 1-0 lead after the Spartans plated a run in the bottom of the fourth.

It could have been more, however.

Knight loaded the bases with three straight walks with one out. Adam Hurwitz grounded out to second to plate a run, and Knight struck out Matt Sabitsky to avoid further damage.

“We were close to maybe getting Chad out of there,” Coppola noted. “We were one hit away from maybe putting up three instead of one in that fourth inning. It turned out to be big. An extra hit would have been nice.”

It’s Staples’ second state title in school history and first in LL. The Wreckers won the Class L title in 2001. They lost in the LL title game two years ago to Amity, when Knight was an eighth-grader — one of an unprecedented four straight state titles for the Spartans.

“Amity’s a great team, they have a great coach, a great program. You don’t win four state championships in a row unless you are,” Knight noted. “To beat them, especially because we lost to them ... This is just surreal. It’s unbelievable to knock out such a great team and say we’re state champs.”

Amity only managed one bunt single the rest of the way. Staples added two more runs in the seventh, including an RBI double by Casparius, who broke the CIAC hits record in the process.

“Towards the end I started cramping up and getting tired,” Scheps confessed. “I started missing high with curveballs, and they took advantage of those pitches. In baseball, that stuff happens.”

It was the 200th win of Staples coach Jack McFarland’s career.

“I’m in a kid business, I want kids to be happy,” he said. “All you can ask as a program is to play for championships. We’ve been in five FCIAC championships, two state finals. That’s who we want to be as a program.”

While it may take a few days to see through the tears, Amity’s 11 seniors can look back at its historic state title run with great pride.

“We’ve had great seasons,” said Scheps, who’ll pitch at West Point next year. “It just comes from hard work. Our team is a family. We just didn’t come out on top today. Staples played a great game, they had a great pitcher. Chad Knight threw exceptional. We just didn’t have it today. It happens.”

“I can’t be mad. We went 25-3, just an amazing record. It shows we’re a hard-working team. They just bested us.”

Added Coppola: “We knew coming in this was gonna be a battle. They have some stud players on that team — the Casparius kid and Chad Knight is a hell of a hitter and a hell of a pitcher. We were gonna have to play a good game, and it was nip and tuck for a while. We threw a 1-0 curveball and Chad Knight ripped it. We were an inch from catching the one before it that went over our centerfielder’s head. And when we got up, we hit the ball hard a few times and flew out deep near the fence. That’s baseball, it really is.”