May 29—MIDDLETOWN — Championship games invariably bring emotions with them: the joy of winning, the sting of defeat.
But when Jared Holbrook stepped onto the mound for the Cheney Tech baseball team at Palmer Field Friday afternoon, different emotions were running through him.
Holbrook’s mother Jen passed away unexpectedly last Nov. 2.
“Every pitch, every time (the umpire) would call that strike, I would just look up and be like, ‘Wow, thank you,’ kind of just thanking her for getting everything to work in my favor,” Holbrook said. “Definitely to have her on my side, even when I get upset or something’s not going my way on the mound, I just think of her and try to make her proud and happy. That was definitely a big goal today.”
The senior right-hander delivered.
Holbrook earned a complete-game victory as the second-seeded Beavers beat No. 1 Abbott Tech 10-4 in the finals of the Connecticut Technical Conference tournament here.
“It was definitely a big win,” he said. “These guys have always been behind me. So, definitely just practicing every day, putting in all the work with your team and finally getting that final win, just makes you so ecstatic.”
Friday was the first meeting between the teams this season. The loss snaps a five-game winning streak for the Wolverines (18-3).
The win gives the Beavers (14-7) their third straight CTC tournament title. Cheney topped Wilcox Tech to win the 2018 and 2019 titles. The 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I knew we had a good nucleus coming back,” Cheney Tech coach Ken Leggo said. “It was a matter of how it all meshed. It was a little slow in the beginning in the year, and it came together.”
Cheney’s run to the title this spring was rocky. The Beavers came back to top No. 7 Norwich Tech 6-5 in nine innings in the quarterfinals Monday. In the semifinals Wednesday, the Beavers held off No. 3 Ellis Tech 2-1.
“It kept us mentally focused,” senior Shawn Rock said of the previous tournament games. “Coach has been preaching that to us all week, all season long. Just stay mentally focused and we’ll come out on top.”
It didn’t take the Beavers long to get on the board Friday. Rock scored when Tyler Meeks’ pitch in the dirt got away from catcher Leo Paragarino with two away in the top of the first. Ben Gendreau made it 2-0 in the top of the third when he scored on a groundout by Holbrook.
In the bottom of the inning, the Wolverines awoke. Meeks led off the inning with a single, Abbott Tech’s first hit of the game. Nate Greene followed that with an RBI double. Later in the inning, Cal Wallin had a two-run single to put his team ahead 3-2.
“We were a little shocked,” Gendreau said. “They had a good third inning, and we just had to bounce back. Once we got one run, it just kept going, domino effect. We just kept going.”
The Beavers stormed back in the top of the fourth, taking the lead for good thanks to consecutive RBI singles by Gendreau, Rock and Holbrook. Rock and Holbrook’s hits didn’t leave the infield. The Beavers added a fourth run in the inning when Rock scored on another Meeks pitch in the dirt.
The Beavers added a run in the sixth and three more in the seventh, including two on a triple by Gendreau, to cushion their lead. The Wolverines’ final run came in the sixth.
Holbrook allowed four runs on six hits while striking out five. He also walked three and hit a batter. He finished with 109 pitches, one shy of the maximum allowed.
On the 109th pitch, Wallin grounded to third baseman Adam Bowman, who stepped on third for the forceout and threw to first baseman Jacob Perez for the final out.
“I was kind of hoping for that ground ball,” Holbrook said. “At 109 pitches, there’s not much left I can do when there’s one out and someone’s on base. So, really needed that ground ball. Having Adam pull through and make that final play and that final throw, just boosted all of our confidence.”
Gendreau, Rock and Holbrook — Cheney’s top three hitters — combined for seven of the Beavers’ 10 hits and six runs scored. Gendreau finished 2-for-3 with two walks, three RBIs and scored four times. Rock went 4-for-4 with a walk and added two RBIs, two steals and two runs scored.
“It keeps everybody engaged,” Rock said of the top of the lineup’s success. “If we do bad and then we sulk, they’re not going to be engaged the whole game. So, we have to lead the team and hit the ball.”
Meeks lasted 5 1/3 innings in the losing effort.
Up next for Cheney is the Class L state tournament. The 15th-seeded Beavers welcome No. 18 East Lyme (10-7) for a first round game Tuesday.
“We need to make fundamental, sound, routine plays,” Leggo said. “I’ve been telling them that all year. They want to rush. When they don’t rush and they field the ball and then they throw the ball, good things happen. If we can keep them composed and just make one play at a time, I think we’re going to be all right.”
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