New Canaan Baseball Rallies Twice for Senior Day Win Over St. Joe’s


The afternoon started with a pregame ceremony honoring the 11-member New Canaan Baseball senior class that has accomplished so much over the last four years, highlighted by the program capturing its first state championship since 1950, back during their sophomore campaign in 2013.

Before all was said and done though, it was two underclassmen—sophomore Mike Pelli and junior Thomas Williams—who were put into high-pressure situations on the mound and delivered. Their performances, sandwiched around a 2-RBI single from senior co-captain Brandon Abate in the bottom of the 6th that put the Rams ahead for good, led New Canaan to a 10-9 victory over the St. Joe’s Cadets.

“You’re asking a young kid [Pelli] to come in, who pitched in the JV game on Monday, and I asked him today how his arm felt, and I said we might need you for one inning,” New Canaan Head Coach Mitch Hoffman told “This is how it’s going to be. Without David Giusti on the mound, we’re going to have to piece it together. No Alex LaPolice because he’s hurt. You just have to figure out as you go along.”

New Canaan scored in the first inning for the second consecutive game to take the early 1-0 lead, courtesy of a single from Abate that drove in Robbie Jones.

St. Joe’s responded to take the lead in the top of the second. St. Joe’s first baseman Tully Horne led off the inning with a double to center off of New Canaan starter Clark Newlove. Four batters later, with the bases loaded and one out, second baseman Dave Capela chopped a grounder over the mound to tie the game at one. Shortstop Neil Velazquez followed that with a sacrifice fly to right for an RBI and a 2-1 Cadets lead.

St. Joe’s starting pitcher Mike Rotondo threw a scoreless bottom half to keep the lead, and his teammates’ bats added to it in the top of the third.

With two outs and a runner on first, centerfielder Matt Laveneziana sent a drive to right field that cleared the fence for a two-run homer for a 4-1 St. Joe’s lead. After Rotondo retired the New Canaan side in order in the bottom half, the Cadets offense was back at it in the fourth.

A New Canaan error allowed Capela to reach second on a fly ball to lead off the inning. Capela scored two batters later on an RBI ground out to extend the St. Joe’s lead to 5-1. With a runner still on second, Newlove got Rotondo to pop up in the infield, but with the swirling winds at Mead Park, it did not land in a Ram glove and instead gave the Cadets runners on first and second.

Third baseman Andrew Walsh followed with an RBI single to center to make it 6-1, and on the ensuing throw home, both he and Rotondo advanced a base, to second and third, respectively.

That prompted Coach Hoffman to call on junior Jack Havard in relief of Newlove. Havard got the double play he wanted from his first batter, however because the first out of the two was Jones tagging first it took the force off at second. This allowed St. Joe’s to score an additional run and take a 7-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth.

Rotondo kept the momentum with the Cadets by recording his second consecutive 1-2-3 inning. Havard responded by working around a leadoff double in the top of the fifth to keep the score 7-1.

In the bottom of the fifth, David Giusti broke a streak of eight consecutive Rams retired by Rotondo with a one-out single to center. Jones then drove an double into the gap in left-center, plating Giusti and trimming the St. Joe’s lead to 7-2. Third baseman Kyle Levasseur followed by lining an RBI single to center, scoring Jones to make it 7-3.

Zach Smith singled to right to move Levasseur to third, with Smith advancing to second on the throw. Abate then infield single for the Rams’ fifth consecutive hit to score Levasseur from third to pull the Rams within three, 7-4.

This set the stage for Kane Curtin, and the senior drove a Rotondo fastball 350 feet over the right-centerfield fence for a game-tying, three-run home-run.

The Cadets responded immediately with back-to-back walks to lead off the top of the sixth. Havard rebounded to strike out Walsh for out number one, but Horne hit an RBI single to right to put the Cadets back on top, 8-7. A throwing error by New Canaan allowed the runners to move up to second and third. With the New Canaan infield playing in, Laveneziana grounded a single up the middle, driving home Rotundo for a 9-7 Cadet lead.

That’s when Hoffman called on Pelli, with runners on the corners and one out.

After Laveneziana stole second without a throw, Pelli stayed composed, getting the first big out he needed when catcher Brendan Rush popped out to shallow right field. The next batter, Matt McKernan, worked the count full on Pelli. The Rams sophomore induced another pop out, this time to second base, sending the Rams into the dugout within striking range.

“That’s a huge spot for a little guy to come in there,” Abate told “The captains and older guys said to him, ‘Listen just do your thing. Go out there, do what you’ve been working on in practice. Calm down, just throw strikes.’ And he did, he did an incredible job coming in there and helped save the game.”

David Giusti led off the bottom of the sixth and roped a line drive to center. The ball was misplayed Laveneziana, allowing the hustling Giusti to reach second. Robbie Jones followed with a line out to deep right that advanced Giusti to third. Levasseur followed with a walk which prompted St. Joe’s coach Jim Chaves to relieve Rotondo, putting in right-hander Mike D’Agostino.

Smith welcomed him by shooting a double through the leaves on the tree in center, plating Giusti for an RBI to narrow the deficit to one, 9-8, and sending pinch-runner Thomas Reynolds to third.

In stepped Abate, who after a walk-off RBI single against Trinity Catholic last Thursday, was no stranger to late-game pressure. True to form, Abate ripped a D’Agostino pitch to center, plating both Reynolds and Smith, and giving New Canaan the 10-9 lead.

“When I got up there I was just thinking I gotta pick my guys up,” said Abate. “Second and third, our whole team’s been working up to that point, so the least I could do was get a base hit there.”

With three more outs to get, Hoffman called upon junior Thomas Williams to closeout the game.

After retiring Capela on a ground out to start the inning, Velazquez made things interesting when he clubbed a double to deep left field. Williams responded by getting the next batter to pop-up to shallow center to Giusti for out number two.

Rotondo was up next, and Coach Hoffman walked out to talk with his junior before facing one of the best hitters on the St. Joe’s roster.

“I said, ‘Thomas, this is their best guy, we’re gonna pitch a little bit backwards,'” Hoffman said. “I also wanted to make sure he knew what backwards meant cause Thomas doesn’t pitch all the time.”

After a first-pitch curve broke over for a strike, Hoffman had Smith move outside, trying to induce Rotondo to roll over on an outside fastball. Williams hit his spot, and Rotondo followed Hoffman’s script to perfection, grounding out to Abate at short for the final out of the game.

With the win, New Canaan improved to 14-3 in FCIAC play and 15-4 overall. St. Joe’s fell to 8-9 in the conference and 9-9 overall. The loss eliminated the Cadets from the FCIAC playoff picture.

The Rams conclude the regular season schedule at Stamford on Friday, May 22, and will return to Mead Park on Tuesday, May 26 for the FCIAC Quarterfinals, against an opponent still to be determined.

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