A day before the Division I high school baseball semifinals, Essex’s third-year coach Chris Richard, in conversation with his pitching coach, Wayne Courcy, made a prediction for his top-seeded Hornets’ matchup with No. 4 Colchester.
With aces Luke Salerno of Essex and Sean Callahan of Colchester on the mound, Richard expected a low-scoring showdown.
“It’s one of those ones where I was talking to Wayne and I made a comment, ‘Whoever scores two runs in this game is going to win it,'” Richard said. “Knowing that we are facing Callahan and Salerno is going — we knew it was going to be a battle.”
Richard’s score prognostication came true — and to his benefit, too.
Sophomore Joey Robertson delivered the go-ahead single, scoring Justin Ward from second base, and the Hornets outlasted the Lakers, 2-1, in a nine-inning, pulsating affair Wednesday.
Essex (16-2) will play defending-champion Champlain Valley for the D-I title at Centennial Field. The date and time will be announced today.
“Hats off to Colchester, it’s a great team, Sean’s a great kid and (coach Tom Perry) runs a great program,” Richard said. “I’m just happy for our kids. They’ve busted their butts all year and we went into the gym in the beginning of the year and said, ‘you’ve got to work hard every single day, get one percent better.
“The whole philosophy with this year was getting together as a team, let’s not have any individuals. And it’s been a great group of kids and this is well-deserved for these kids,” Richard added.
That included Robertson, who made amends after grounding out with the bases loaded in the sixth, ending an Essex rally.
“I told myself the next time around in the lineup — and there you go,” said Robertson, who also scored the Hornets’ tying run in the second. “This is my first year on varsity and it feels great to be a part of the team, make plays and get to the ‘ship.”
Salerno, after a shaky first inning, allowed just four hits while striking out three in the complete-game victory. Salerno and Callahan matched each other pitch for pitch with different styles. Salerno worked quickly, totaling four 1-2-3 innings, while Callahan fanned eight batters and yielded four hits in 8 1⁄3 innings.
“It was definitely a fun game and you don’t get to be in games like this every day,” said Salerno, who mixed in his off-speed pitch after the first inning. “Obviously, your arm is going to be tired but you just have to dig deep at that point … and do what you have to do.”
After reaching the pitch-count limit of 120 with one out in the ninth, Callahan left to fan applause.
“He was ready for those big moments — he’s a big-time player and a super talent,” Perry said.
Devin Dessormeau, the winning pitcher of the quarterfinal extra-inning affair against Rice, replaced Callahan. Ward reached on a walk and stole second before rumbling home on Robertson’s base hit down the third-base line.
Callahan gave Colchester a 1-0 lead with a two-out single in the first. Essex tied it in the second, with Hudson Seaman’s single plating Robertson.
The Lakers’ three-year run — back-to-back semifinal appearances; top seed in 2011, losing in a 13th-inning quarterfinal — is a proud stretch for the program, Perry said.
“It’s been a nice crew of talented baseball players the last few years. We’ve had three teams in three years good enough to win a state title,” Perry said. “This team was as much fun as I’ve had coaching — they just clicked the last month, starting to take care of each other and doing the little things.”