Record-setting Foran Lions
Foran High’s J.T. Lanese and Mike Leson slammed long home runs, John Lickteig had a four-hit final, and Chris Goglia came on in relief to slow the North Haven bats when coach Garrett Walker’s Lions turned improbability into reality with an 8-2 victory in the CIAC Class L championship baseball game on June 10 at Middletown's Palmer Field.
"These kids simply put their minds to it," said Walker, who took over the program in 2014 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.
"Dad would've been completely and utterly proud of these boys. 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."
Foran, seeded 32nd and last in the field, is the lowest seeded team in any CIAC sport to earn a title. Portland High’s girls soccer team won as a 29th seed. East Catholic lost in the final as a 32 seed.
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."
Lickteig, one of 10 seniors, said, "I so proud of this team. When we were 1-11, it would've been so easy to just quit; to throw in the towel. We never did. Somehow, we kept finding ways to win. But to be state champs from where we came from. This is insane."
Foran, which came into the title game averaging 8.5 runs a game, scored three times in its first at bat against No. 7 North Haven (18-8).
After Lickteig singled, 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. "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.”
Kevin Lanese followed his brother’s blast with a single.
Three batters later, he scored on Leson's single.
After neither team scored runs in either the second or third innings, Foran improved its lead to 5-0 with a pair of runs on a Lickteig single in the fourth.
Down 5-0, Indians scored two runs in the fourth off of Foran starting pitcher Nick Hartley. 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, Walker lifted Hartley for reliever Chris Goglia. 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.
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.
In all, the Lions rapped out 14 hits, with Lickteig getting four and Mark Wooton, J.T. Lanese and Leson adding two each.
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<’ DeMayo 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.
Foran won the lottery pick over New London for the last seed before knocking off top-seeded East Lyme 8-4, Berlin 7-2, Guilford 10-8 and Watertown 10-5.
The CIAC opted to go to a 32-team field for baseball this season. In past years it took eight wins to qualify. Foran and New London, each at 7-13, were in the hunt for the last spot. A random number draw prior to the season went the Lions way and they took care of the rest.