Crusaders fulfill season-long dream

Holy Cross players share some laughs in the pregame huddle on Wednesday.
Tim Zupkus came through in the clutch at the plate and in right field.

When Holy Cross baseball took the field for the 2017 NVL tournament final on Wednesday against Seymour, the memory of the 2016 loss was there.
The Crusaders lost last year’s game to Oxford at Naugatuck High School, and the memory has been a motivator. The goal for Holy Cross in the NVL was to get back to the championship game.
The Crusaders did just that, and they overcame an uncharacteristically shaky defense to beat the Wildcats 3-1 and win the championship.

Connor Goggin added an insurance run with his RBI single.

“We’ve been playing all season to get to this game tonight and win this game, and it feels so great to finally come through,” sophomore Tim Zupkus said.

Will Marshall made a heads-up play at the plate to complete a big six-inning double play.

Zupkus had two big plays in the victory. The first one came via his bat, a RBI double down the left field line that drove in senior Adam Razza and put Holy Cross ahead 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning. Zupkus was getting plenty of chances to hit behind senior walk machine Matt Bonvicini. There were certainly times where Zupkus didn’t come through, and it was frustrating for him.
On Wednesday, Bonvicini legged out a two-out infield single, giving Zupkus his chance.
“I’ve had a lot of experience, and been working through the regular season really hard,” Zupkus said. “I might not get the bit hit in the regular season, but I’m happy to come through now.”

Fran Phelan pitched like an ace when his team needed it most.

Zupkus and Bonvicini were on second and third with two outs for another sophomore, Connor Goggin. Goggin stepped up and smacked a single to left, scoring Bonvicini for a 3-1 Holy Cross lead. Bonvicini struggled during the tournament, but was helped out by the likes of Zupkus and Goggin.
“This week he really needed us, and were there for him,” Goggin said.
In the top of the sixth, the defense was there for complete-game winner Fran Phelan. Seymour had a runner on third with one out, and a fly ball was hit to Zupkus in right. Zupkus caught the ball, then threw home to junior catcher Will Marshall. Marshall had to snag the throw on a short hop, then try to sweep a tag onto the Wildcat baserunner. Marshall missed the tag, but the runner also missed the base.
Marshall, starting for sophomore Brian Parzyck, saw the runner miss out of the corner of his eye. His coach noticed too, and shouted. Marshall ran back and tagged the runner out to complete the wild double play. Seymour thought its runner had tagged the base, but the home plate umpire ruled otherwise.
Marshall was happy to contribute to his team’s cause.
“We always say next man up, and I knew I just had to play hard for my team and do all the little things,” Marshall said.
It was a strong throw by Zupkus, who made up for a dropped foul pop earlier in the game.
“The outfield is tremendous,” head coach Mike Phelan said. “We have Adam in center, those two guys (Goggin and Zupkus) on the wings. Teams can’t run on us, it’s evident. They held guys all tournament, and they did a great job today again.”
Fran Phelan made sure Seymour went down quietly in the seventh, retiring all three hitters on grounders.
“I saw it in his eyes in the seventh inning,” Mike Phelan said. “He just said, we’re not losing this game, we’re taking it, and that’s exactly what he did.”
A season-long quest for redemption ended triumphantly when Phelan’s throw hit the first base mitt of Bonvicini. The Crusaders erupted in celebration. Fran Phelan needed no more motivation than last year’s title game loss.
“Last year losing it definitely made me want it more this year,” Fran Phelan said.
After struggling with adrenaline early in the game, Fran Phelan settled down and pitched like the ace he has been for Holy Cross.
“He keeps us in every single game,” Mike Phelan said. “When 19 is on the hill, we know we have a shot to win every single game.”
They certainly do, and the lineup isn’t half bad either. Combine good pitching with timely hitting and the normally solid Crusader defense, and they will be a very tough team to beat in Class S.
“I feel like we’re feeding off a lot of confidence and I think we’re looking really good for states,” Zupkus said.
Indeed, with the NVL title goal secured, there’s another one on the minds of the Holy Cross players. Just before the postgame huddle broke Wednesday, these three words were repeated over and over: “Five more games.”
That’s what it will take to win a Class S state championship. The Crusaders have a good chance at holding up another trophy if they play the way they have for most of this season.

PHOTOS: Click here to see more images from the game.